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Ohio Statehouse Press Corps Rejects ePluribus Media Credentials Request

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: After nearly four months of engaging the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA) to review and rule on a request by ePluribus Media to secure Statehouse press corps credentials for three of its journalists, a rejection of those candidates was received Tuesday citing “the appearance of political bias and a lack of adherence to professional journalism standards as referenced in the OLCA constitution,” as reasons arrived at by the group’s board of officers.

Here’s their thumbs-down verdict:

John,

The executive board of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association met today (Jan. 8) to consider the applications of three people associated with ePluribus Media to join the association — yourself, Timothy D. Smith and Anastasia Pantsios. The board researched and discussed the applications in depth.

The board was not in a position to discuss whether the content of ePluribus Media was of value to anyone in particular. In fact, board members suggested your organization's work could have value to citizens and others. Thus, we are not commenting on whether the material the organization produces is good or bad. And we did not discuss nor make a decision about the role of bloggers in political discourse. Board members, however, were required to decide whether the content of and the work of those who provide it to ePluribus Media meet the highest professional standards of journalism.

The board unanimously rejected ePluribus Media's three applications based on the appearance of political bias and a lack of adherence to professional journalism standards as referenced in the OLCA constitution.

I want to emphasize that the board took the applications very seriously and took a very deliberative and reasoned approach to arriving at its decision. I also want to make sure you know that those associated with ePluribus Media, as well as any member of the public, has a right to attend House and Senate committee meetings, sessions of the House and Senate in the chambers' public areas and to interview people in the halls of the statehouse without being a member of OLCA. Lack of membership, however, prevents you and your associates from having access to the floors of the two chambers, using the pressroom and being included on our membership list.

I'm sorry the news of the board's decision is not one you wanted to hear. We wish you good luck in your endeavor.

Best regards,

Paul

Paul E. Kostyu
President, OLCA

Anticipating the group would arrive at this decision, a response letter seeking truthful answers to important questions was returned to Mr. Kostyu:

Dear Paul:

The OhioNews Bureau news and information team of ePluribus Media asked me to thank you for convening the OLCA board to discuss and rule on our request that three of our contributing journalists become active, credentialed members in the Ohio Statehouse press corps.

That the OLCA board has unanimously rejected all three of our candidates comes as no surprise. We have long anticipated this decision; and, frankly, a different decision would have been truly astonishing. Despite knowing that our request would be unwelcome, the significance of making it remains important – and newsworthy.

The kind of pioneering efforts to foster change we view ours to be are worth the instructive scars that come with failing. But with rejection, a renewal of spirit and a new determination to make the march again is not unusual. As you and your members know, the desire for change is in the air this election year. And ePluribus Media embodies the kind of change citizens are calling for from their news sources.

We are pleased to hear that your board's members consider an emerging news media group like ours to be of value to "citizens and others." This is good. Likewise, we consider the work of your group's established members to be of value to citizens and others as well. In fact, though we operate in different environments, we see parity in our contributions and products within the public sphere to those of your group's members.

We believe, however, that we are owed truthful answers to important questions raised by your rejection of our application, questions that undercut the subjective rationalizations you've used to reject our candidates, questions that make it appear that you do not adhere to the very tenants of your own constitution—or to the journalistic ethics that you claim to uphold.

For starters, please explain to us why you permit people who work for news groups that belong to the Ohio Newspaper Association (ONA) – which actively lobbies the Ohio Legislature, most importantly on access to public records and legislation pertaining to advertising revenue to newspapers– to be members? As far as we can determine, based on most of your members and the newspapers they write for, this is a blatant violation of your constitution [1].

From even the most liberal interpretation of the OLCA constitution on this point, this is a giant conflict of interest. Certainly, it provides as much of a "bias" as anything ePluribus Media can be accused of, and we're not members of the ONA, your industry's chief lobbying group.
Pursuant to your board's judgment that our three applications were rejected "based on the appearance of political bias and a lack of adherence to professional journalism standards as referenced in the OLCA constitution," please explain to us where in your constitution or bylaws we would find definitions for what constitutes the "highest standards of professional journalism" or "political bias?"

Political bias seems to be in the eye of the beholder. When truth is spoken to power, it is customary and convenient to label such reporting as politically biased. By guaranteeing the delivery of "responsible reporters" to the General Assembly of Ohio, as your group's purpose states, the work of our journalists is no more politically biased than the works of several OLCA members, including Mr. Hallett of The Columbus Dispatch, Mr. Willard of the Akron Bean Journal, Ms. Bischoff of The Dayton Daily News or Mr. Williamson of The Other Paper, among others, whose work elicits from "citizens and others," including a long list of Ohio political bloggers, accusations of showing favoritism to one candidate or issue. You may choose to ignore these perceptions of politically biased reporting among your members, but such perceptions exist in realty nonetheless.

Please explain to us why a reporter for Fox 8 News in Cleveland, Mr. Damschroder, who is not an OLCA member but who works for a news network run by Roger Ailes, an avowed, politically biased Republican operative, is permitted access to the floors of the House and Senate? During my tenure with OLCA, I witnessed this first-hand on many occasions. Why doesn't OLCA bar Mr. Damschroder, who also once ran for public office as a political partisan and who worked for a partisan officeholder, from these two hallowed grounds?

We understand the fears a staid, establishment group like OLCA may have when confronted by the unwelcome specter of new types of news gathering and dissemination, including the rise of new-media journalists, who as a new class of reporters are every inch as professional, thorough, accurate, timely and insightful as any OLCA member or establishment journalist.

We followed, as assume you did, the tragic but avoidable experiment that took place this past summer when the Plain Dealer tried to incorporate "partisan political bloggers" into its news mix. While we understand that admitting a group like ours would encroach on the territoriality of many of your group's members, we also believe that our efforts are worthwhile despite their anticipated failure. The world of news gathering and presentation is changing. We won't be the last "new media" group to come knocking at your press-room door.

Furthermore, if OLCA is so sensitive to perceptions of inappropriate political liaisons, as you say you are, why do you permit a long-time Democratic operative daily access to your lunch table, when the goal of this operative is to influence the reporters that gather there? Would you allow a Republican counterpart to do the same? Is the Statehouse press room an open forum for political operatives to come lobby the press on a regular basis, or is it to be used for such purposes only upon invitation or in special circumstances? This chronic practice clearly compromises your assertions of maintaining high standards of journalism.

The underlying financial reasons as to why some OLCA members don't embrace emerging media groups like ePluribus Media being allowed to enter the Statehouse press room has not escaped out attention. Admitting a group like ours would mean that others would follow. This would mean that a small group of players, who have much to loose if others are allowed in, would no longer be able to use their privileged access to two small turfs of prized real estate to generate the kind of business revenue made possible through the bottleneck the Ohio Legislature insures by refusing to provide for the recording of all its activities, as other progressive states have chosen to do. If that sounds harsh, it is meant to. Ours is supposed to be an open society, not one where access to information is controlled by any one group like OLCA, which obviously is more beholding to the General Assembly than it is to "citizens and others" who seek truth, no matter what source delivers it.

As a former OLCA member writing for The Hannah News Service, and based on discussions I've had with other former OLCA members, including past presidents, I know well the intra-group squabbles over how Hannah was kept at bay by its main competitor who was finally out foxed years later when a change in the bylaws to not exclude them was agreed upon as an acceptable compromise. Eventually, you may have to do this again for emerging media groups like ePluribus Media, for the changing news environment will not be denied, not in the long run.

Paul, it's unfortunate that a group like OLCA, one that claims to be the protectorate of high standards of journalism, that uses its so-called aversion to political bias to exclude clearly qualified journalists as measured by the sparse written standards in your application, would subject itself to political gamesmanship and turn a blind eye to clear conflicts of interest among your own members and their news organizations they represent. Coming as it were from members who clamor for access to the shops of others but who are hyper defensive when it comes to their own bailiwick, the decision of your board is both sad and wrong, but instructive as to why the traditional commercial news media are failing the "citizens and others" it is designed to serve.

We think the preamble of your constitution bears repeating, especially the language that defines the purpose of OLCA to "encourage all public officials in the proper exercise of their public duties; to foster cooperation among its members for the common good; and to preserve and protect free and open access to information and the people's right to know."

Accordingly, the OhioNews Bureau and the ePluribus Media team that collaborates to make it possible, look forward to your response to our questions and concerns. Thank you in advance for your anticipated help and assistance with our request.

Sincerely yours,

John Michael Spinelli
OhioNews Bureau Chief

[1] "Each member shall, before receiving his/her membership card, sign a statement that he/she is not engaged in the promotion of legislation or in the production of claims pending before the General Assembly and will not become so engaged while allowed the privileges of the floor and that he/she is not in any sense the agent or representative of an individual or organization having legislation before the General Assembly and will not become either while retaining those privileges." [7th paragraph, OLCA bylaws]

OHIO NEWS BUREAU BACKGROUND

EPluribus Media launched the OhioNews Bureau (ONB) in July 2007, as a pioneering model for a larger network of first state news bureaus.

Reflecting on the not-for-profit business model of The Associated Press, which was launched 162 years ago in 1846 and now boasts bureaus in every state, the audacity of the ONB is that we hope it will lead to more ePMedia outposts in sync with and anticipation of the furious election year 2008 promises to be, a year Americans will select new public officials at all levels, most notably, a new president and Congress.

As someone who came to journalism late in life, after a successful career in both the private and public sectors that emphasized non-profit development, community economic development, and award-winning collaborations focused on urban renewal and grantsmanship and general communication strategy, I embarked on yet another opportunity and challenge with an emerging new-media group whose future lay ahead of it.

From my cub reporter days for a chain of weekly suburban newspapers in Central Ohio covering business and government to the launch of Profiles in Business, my Sunday series analyzing the dynamics of business and the people that run them, to my years as an Ohio Statehouse reporter, journalism, as now modified and energized by the growth of worthy citizen journalists who have changed the landscape of news, has become my passion.

Leaving my position as Information Manager for the Ohio Secretary of State in late April to assume caregiver duties for my aging brother, the last member of my immediate family, I used my new-found time to become an active, contributing member of the ePluribus Media community.

Working principally with Cho , Roxy and Aaron Barlow, we developed a collaborative and creative plan to launch a series of state news bureaus, starting with Ohio. For three years, I worked on Ohio government news as a credentialed member-in-good standing of the a.k.a. the Ohio Statehouse press corps, which today includes 21 news organizations and 42 correspondents.

OLCA was created in 1893 by the Ohio General Assembly to accredit Statehouse reporters who work for established news groups. As we learn from its Website, OLCA “functions independently to ensure only legitimate reporters are granted floor privileges in the House of Representatives and Senate” and “acts as a watchdog to preserve the rights of the public and press to access government records and meetings.”

Of course, the definition of “independently” and “legitimate” are not defined in either the group’s constitution or its bylaws. The reliance upon subjective judgments as opposed to clear definitions of what these and other terms mean in reality served as the basis for denying the candidates ePluribus Media submitted for active membership in OLCA.

The primary privilege OLCA controls, which is not available to the public at large, is access to the floors of the Ohio Senate and House. These two, small parcels of pubic real estate are where Ohio’s 33 senators and 99 representatives convene to debate and pass laws. Upon this hallowed ground, only members of OLCA can trod during legislative sessions to mingle with legislators and their staff, abiding by chamber rules and maintaining decorum, as controlled by the Clerks of each chamber. All others are segregated to the pubic space beyond the ornate railings of the Senate or relegated to the public gallery that overlooks the House. The Ohio General Assembly also provides OLCA with its Statehouse press room space, which is provided free of charge. Active members of OLCA – who pay $60 a year – can vote on organizational matters and serve as a board member.

Membership in OLCA delivers a level of respectability reserved for members that non-members don’t have. For the news media, membership in OLCA is equivalent to being a member of your local yacht club or private club.

While others talked about making such an overture, ePluribus Media took that pioneering step. We deserve the credit for attempting to scale the walls that defend established news media from emerging new-media groups like ours. We are not alone in our thinking, as this article, one of many, duly notes.

I anticipate participating in the Rootscamp Ohio this Sunday in Columbus, where many others will be in attendance.

The OhioNews Bureau will continue undaunted. EPluribus Media will continue to work to establish more state news bureaus. As we’re learning from the tectonic shifts taking place between new-media news groups and services and the established media guarded fiercely by groups like OLCA, is that we are on the offense while they are crouching in defense.

The Ohio press room redoubt that is OLCA may have won this small skirmish – but far from being over, the larger battle has been joined and will continue.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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Comments

Despite knowing that our

Despite knowing that our request would be unwelcome, the significance of making it remains important – and newsworthy. The kind of pioneering efforts to foster change we view ours to be are worth the instructive scars that come with failing. Editor: commercial link removed.

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Every other space in the

Every other space in the Statehouse is generally open to the public, partisan or not --- just not the chamber floors when the Legislature is in session, for reasons that should be obvious. I doubt any legislature in the country allows "citizen journalists" to mix and mingle with Members on the floor during sessions --- such a policy would interfere with their work.

Editor: commercial link removed

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Garry Wertu

Statehouse

To answer one of your questions, yes, Republican operatives are allowed in the Statehouse pressroom to drop off a press release, gossip with willing reporters, and generally plead their case (if they dare)--- they just aren't welcome to join OLCA and be issued House and Senate floor privileges. Every other space in the Statehouse is generally open to the public, partisan or not --- just not the chamber floors when the Legislature is in session, for reasons that should be obvious.
I doubt any legislature in the country allows "citizen journalists" to mix and mingle with Members on the floor during sessions --- such a policy would interfere with their work. I believe that is why press credentialing and OLCA were instituted over one hundred years ago.

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Helpful Information, Swordfish...but

several questions beg asking:

1) Since lobbyists can't roam the Senate or House floors like they used to before OLCA was created in 1893 to prevent them from coaxing or influencing legislators to vote one way or another, what's the point or purpose of allowing reporters on the floor to begin with, most especially during a session when legislators should be focused on the bills before them and not be distracted by the presence of the media? The media ought to be relegated to the public space where the public is relegated to. And anyway, the respective Clerks of the Legislature control session business and what happens on the floor anyway, and since reporters generally sit quietly at their wooden stations, the purpose of their presence on the floor seems outdated. Televised floor sessions obviate their need to be there.

As you say, nearly the entire statehouse is open to the public. Why are the small patches of public turf that constitute the House and Senate floors allowed to be compromised by the OLCAns? The questioning of the President or Speaker immediately following a session can take place in the public space, where all comers could gather, not just the privileged few.;

2) The most blatant violation of OLCA's constitution is the violation by each "accredited" reporter who works for a newspaper who pays dues to the Ohio Newspaper Association that lobbies the legislature on legislation, a clear violation of the group's primary prohibition, that of conflict of interest. Why is such a blatant violation allowed to continue? Let's get the real truth: after all the talk about defending the high standards of journalism and accusations of political bias has died down, the real issue is about money. By virtue of their accredited status, each member and their respective companies turn their privilege into cash. And this is inherently unfair to those who don't enjoy the same privileges even though they do the same work. It's more about parlaying their privilege into revenue. And as we all know, legacy news rooms are plugging holes where one-time guaranteed revenue is being siphoned off because news from group's like ePluribus Media and the OhioNews Bureau can be hand by the click of a mouse and subject to a paid subscription.

Conflict of interest is starring them all in the face:

3) On this same point, since no member is permitted to be a member if they have any business with government or before the Legislature, why is one member who prides itself on being the "record of capital square" allowed to have a communication contract with the Senate and House? Why is this government contract not considered a government contract, which would otherwise disqualify one from being a member of OLCA?

Our candidates, experienced, exercising high standards of journalism.

4) As for the three established journalists ePluribus Media put forward for consideration, each one can rightfully and truthfully provide the qualifying answer to the following three questions on the OLCA membership application: 1. I am a journalist representing an established general circulation newspaper, news and information service, magazine, radio station, television station or wire service, or an affiliate of such an organization; 2. I am not controlled by or connected with any association (like the Ohio Newspaper Association), firm, corporation or individual representing any trade, profession, political party or special interest group; 3. I am either exclusively or regularly assigned to cover the Ohio General Assembly, state government or Ohio politics.

As for rejection of them based on the flimsy excuse that their work was "politically bias," many OLCAns, especially senior political writers or the political writer for The Other Paper could succumb to that accusation. Being politically bias is not always a function of what is said but can also be what is not said, the question not asked, the research not done, the interview not conducted, the viewpoint not included. Reporters are notoriously both lazy and under the gun of deadlines. Many of us new-media journalists aren't encumbered by those restraints. We can be more informative, as OhioNews Bureau stories generally are. In fact, their construction is often hinged on the reporting of OLCA members, so to characterize them as being biased is a tacit criticism of the work of its members.

The comment made by Tim Smith, one of our three candidates, that was posted here, bears showing here:

"...as one of the three journalists denied entry into the OLCA ranks, I can’t begin to tell you how insulted I was by Kostyu’s letter.

Yes, as “Timroff,” I have clearly stated my opinion on both dailykos.com and on the E Pluribus Media community site.

But in my role as “Timothy D. Smith, correspondent,” I have never offered a opinion or taken a partisan or advocacy role. Through my 20+ years of work with the CSU Cauldron, City Reports Newspaper, the Cleveland Free Times, Inside Business magazine, and e Pluribus Media, I have been quite careful to leave my own opinions at my doorstep.

So I was astounded to see that my work was considered biased and unprofessional by the OLCA board, and I question whether or not the board actually read anything I had ever written. My suspicion is that, no, they did not. Rather, they took a glance at the community page, read one or two of John’s pieces, then brought out their brush and bucket of tar.

The good old boys clearly don’t want nontraditional media to infringe on their turf, and like the Jets in West Side Story, they’ll stubbornly hold on ” ’til their last dying day.”

Ah, well. I’ll keep writing and interviewing, since it’s what I do. And as more people turn to the nontraditional media for their news, my readership will increase while the OLCA members’ readerships will drop. And someday. they’ll come to us and ask us for permission to join our club.

Hopefully, I’ll be open and fair enough to say yes…

–Tim

Finally, your assumption that no state legislature would allow a citizen-journalist to be on the floor may be spoken in haste. From this report, it seems a blogger from Tennessee has made the leap, and that Texas and California aren't far behind. And for what it's worth, a UK blogger has become a member of the Union of Journalists over there.

You may also want to check out the Media Bloggers Association, which after reading about our news today has offered its help to us to advance the credentialing of new-media journalists in Ohio.

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Thank you for your insight ...

ePluribus Media has high standards for articles published on the ePluribus Media Journal. All of these articles are fact-checked and edited, and after going through this process earn our "seal of approval" whereas the commentaries on the Community site are just that commentaries, opinion, editorial ....

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ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin

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IMO the New York Times frequently fails the to be objective

One example is their record of holding back anti-administration stories and conversely publishing Bush administration spin releases as "truth."

Double Standard here perhaps!

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carol

What's that saying....if at first you don't succeed

try try again! Thank you for your tenacity!!! NO FEAR!

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NO FEAR! is right...

What's a little rejection? I've been rejected so many times in my life that if I had a nickel for each time it happened, I'd be fabulously wealthy. But I'm not fabulously wealthy; but I am fabulously resilient and determined. And those are qualities money can't buy.

It's the school of hard knocks. The delicious yet salty irony of a group of reporters who make handsome livings because they have access to two, small patches of public turf that others (like use) are deprived of, is a prize worth fighting for. Beware: The citizen journalists are coming to a statehouse near you!

Change is the hands-down winner for buzzword of the year, and the year is just starting. We hear it everyday, especially by presidential candidates, one of whom used it (as I recall) about 14 times in a couple minute period. Speaking truth to power, especially the power of legislators who represent the hand that feeds these people, is often labeled as being "politically biased" when its not.

Bias, or "a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation," can appear in many forms, not the least of which is not asking hard questions, reguritating what you're told without further challenges, not including facts or observations by others that might ruffle the feathers of those you're supposed to report on and "keep'em honest" as Anderson Cooper glibby says.

We don't have a separate editorial page at ePluribus or at the OhioNews Bureau. ONB reports are no different than any OP-Ed piece by any Times columnist. Having a point of view is not anathema to responsible journalism; in fact, it adds to the burden of responsibility we all have when takng on a person, candidate or issue.

So they may have won this battle, but the war is just beginning.

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Here's a silly question: Does "Fox" have media

credentials for the Ohio press boxes?

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What's that other word for 'nothing to lose'?

nice job of banging on the door there!

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"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

John

For your application to succeed I think it necessary to establish a separate site for your (and future) news bureaus. A site that lives between the rigidly controlled Journal and here.

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As John notes ...

we are working on the technical aspects of the News Bureaus, but are slowly getting the pieces put together ...

See State News Bureaus

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ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin

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A Home for ONB

The OhioNews Bureau does have a new home -- on the new Journal! Bugs are still being worked out, but two stories are up now, with more on their way.

Stories that make it to the Journal carry ePM's "stamp of approval" so to speak; much like a USDA stamp of approval on a cut of prime beef (vegetarians avert your eyes).

Roxy, avahome and others on my team of collaborators are making it all happen, and while the stories arn't flyng there yet, it's just a matter of time until we get our plays and signals worked out. Hope this helps.

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