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April 2, 2003

Press Conference Access Redux

Posted by Mike on April 2, 2003 1:38 PM

Bix has more on his press conference woes, as do I:

A mail toSarah Bott, in the mayor's press office, didn't yield a lot to explain why they would have bounced an uncredentialed reporter from a press conference. In fact, she said the policy for access to the conference, held by the police, was a police matter and referred me to the Portland Police Bureau's public information office.

This morning I gave the PIO a call and talked to Sergeant Brian Schmautz, asking him if he could explain what constitutes adequate credentials for access to police press conferences, and asking why anyone would have been kept from the one held on 3/27, where Bix had his problems.

According to Sergeant Schmautz, the issue centered around the ongoing "orange alert" status, which, he said, mandates escorts for visitors to the police station, and Ms. Bott's apparent disavowal of any knowledge of Bix (which he discussed in his initial report on the matter, as well as his subsequent followup).

Given that Ms. Bott said she had no idea who Bix was (and why that is certainly isn't clear, though I'm willing to bet it was the native caution of someone who wasn't sure who was giving her name and didn't want to agree to something that would get her in trouble later), SGT Schmautz said he had no choice but to refuse admission to the press conference.

The second part of my discussion with SGT Schmautz centered around just what does constitute a "credential" to the Portland City Police. More to the point, I asked him if independent media in the area could credential themselves. His response to that was surprising, to the extent he said it seemed like a waste of effort, since the conditions that caused them to deny admission to the press conference in the first place are tied almost entirely to the "orange alert" status we're all in thanks to the war (and whatever other indicators the goat entrails reveal to our soothsayers this week). He did, however, say that would certainly work as an alternative to clearing people on a case-by-case basis. He even went so far as to say "I don't care what system people use to identify themselves as press."

So the issue seems to boil down to needing something that says "press" on it when you try to get into a press conference. I'm guessing the police aren't interested in verifying the nature of an entity, provided one appears to be there, and since SGT Schmautz said local indy media are welcome to work together to come up with a uniform press i.d. and present that as credentials, it looks like there's an easy solution in sight to keep things like what happened to Bix from happening in the future.

My inclination is to go to the effort to create some sort of "independent media consortium" for interested community reporters that issues credentials in exchange for agreement to adhere to basic conduct rules (SGT Schmautz said he hates it when people like local radio blowhard Lars Larson use their credentials to get into press conferences so they can ask no questions but make lots of assertions). I'd even go so far as to handle the organizational details, like maintaining the registry and producing press cards that look like something besides Avery inkjet business cards.

If it seems like a lot of effort to go to, getting this far into the story, I guess all I can say is that this is the sort of thing that's important right now:

We can't do much to roll back the most anti-democratic instincts of government in time of crisis (and we've been in a crisis since 9/11), but we can encourage the institutions that encourage a democratic mindset. Among them are a free, independent press. People like Bix take their own time to go out and report on government and community from a grass roots perspective. They see things the corporate reporters won't, can't, or simply don't feel free to report on. Their audiences may be small, but they provide us with another set of eyes to see and another voice to tell what's going on.

Anyhow, that seems to be that from my end of it. I'll post anything new Bix comes up with as he works on things from his side.


I am definately interested in the idea of a consortiam of independent media. I think it is a great idea, and I think it would make serious progress in the recognition of webloggers and indymedia folks as legitimate journalists. However, I feel that there may be some resistance to your " basic conduct rules". Many independent media folk might not like the idea of playing by these rules in exchange for legitamacy. This might remove their independence. Personally, I am all for the idea and am willing to adhere to some basic principle's of behavior.

Posted by: MigraineBoy@AllianceWatch at April 2, 2003 5:23 PM

Well, there's a difference between, say, "rules" that say I Will Never Criticize a City Employee and "rules" that say I Will Abide By Standard Journalistic Ethics.

Frankly, depending on how such a thing were worded, it doesn't have to box anyone into anything.

Posted by: The One True b!X at April 3, 2003 2:33 PM

Bix has it straight... when I talk about "basic conduct rules," I'm not talking about much more than acknowledging that if you gain access under the premise that you're present as a reporter, you'll act in that manner. There's a strong tradition of columnist-oriented journalism in the US, so it's not as if you have to suspend your right to have an opinion to be identified as press.

I've set up a a mailinglist folks can subscribe to to discuss these issues. If nothing else, it might provide an interesting chat. If enough people see the use of working out some basic guidelines/standards, and forming a small coalition of local press, I remain willing to do the organizational legwork to make it happen.

On other fronts in that area, I've spoken to a indy-press-friendly prof at PSU and she's helping me track down some resources that might help us establish press credentials without reinventing the wheel.

Posted by: Michael Hall at April 4, 2003 12:07 AM