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OhioNews Bureau Covers SOTS Speech, Despite More Statehouse Press Corps Rejections

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: Despite the unexplained, follow-the-leader rejections given by the six members of the board of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA) that prevented me from obtaining a one-day only media pass to report on the State of the State speech given in Columbus Wednesday, I covered the speech from the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives, nonetheless.

JUDGE NOT LEST YE BE JUDGED

Any member of OLCA’s board can unilaterally authorize a one-day press pass. Feeling the need for more rejection (or maybe it's just my inner masochist coming through), I asked OLCA president Paul Kostyu, a Statehouse reporter for the Canton Repository, a publication owned by GateHouse Media, to give me a day-pass to cover the governor’s SOTS speech on February 6th. Mr. Kostyu, offering less explanation than he gave to reject for membership, declined my request.

John,

While I appreciate your request for a day pass to cover the governor's state of the state address, I choose not to grant it. I will remind you, however, that you are able to cover the address from the public gallaries (sic).

Even though the other five members of OLCA’s board who had joined with Kostyu to reject me and two other reporters ePluribus Media had submitted for active membership, I decided to get each one of them another shot at me. Here’s my entreaty to them:

To: Jim Siegel, Julie Carr Smyth, Laura Bischoff, Cathy Candisky, Bill Cohen

From: John Michael Spinelli, OhioNews Bureau Chief

Re: One-day Press Pass to Cover Governor Strickland's State of the State Speech on Feb. 6th

I'm assuming you already know, but if you don't, Paul Kostyu, your group's president, replied to my request for a one-day only OLCA press pass to cover and report on Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's State of the State speech next Wednesday, February 6th. His reply, sent on January 30th, follows:

John,

While I appreciate your request for a day pass to cover the governor's state of the state address, I choose not to grant it. I will remind you, however, that you are able to cover the address from the public gallaries (sic).

Since a one-day press pass can be authorized by any member of the OLCA board, and for the benefit of the OhioNews Bureau staff at ePluribus Media and others who have taken a keen interest in this request, I'd appreciate the professional courtesy of an up or down vote (Yes or No) from each of you on whether you stand in solidarity with Mr. Kostyu's decision to "not grant it."

Please reply to this email no later than noon Monday, February 4th. Thank you for your time and consideration. Enjoy your weekend. John Michael Spinelli

Faithfully following their leader, they responded this way:

Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) – responded Tuesday, a day late, with: “I concur with Paul’s decision.”

Jim Siegel (Columbus Dispatch) – also responded a day late with: “I agree with Kostyu’s decision.”

Bill Cohen (Ohio Public Radio/Public TV Statehouse News Bureau) – responded on Friday, Feb. 1st with: “I agree with Paul Kostyu’s decision on state of the state credentials.”

The two remaining OLCA board members – Cathy Candisky of the Columbus Dispatch, a former OLCA president, and Laura Bischoff of the Dayton Daily News – didn’t even have the professional courtesy to respond at all. I felt shortchanged by not getting rejected by everyone.

With a little help from my (blogger) friends, like Case Western Reserve law-student Jerid Kurtz at Buckeye State Blog, I learned that media credentials for the SOTS could also be secured by the House Clerk’s office on the day of the event. With this information, I was able to navigate around the OLCA blockade to safe passage to the SOTS.

Mr. Kostyu could have mentioned this; but he clearly “chose not to.”

PROFESSIONAL COURTESY, A RARE COMMODITY AMONG US REPORTERS

During the day yesterday, I was in close proximity to Ms. Bischoff and Ms. Smyth, both of whom saw me but acted as if I wasn't there. And I hadn't brought my Harry Potter cloak of invisibility with me. Clearly, I didn't exit for them.

Bill Hershey, a veteran reporter and colleague of Bishoff’s from The Dayton Daily News who is a likable guy and who doesn’t carry the paranoia some reporters in OLCA generally show to their competitors, greeted me with a smile and shook my hand. Jokingly, he said he hadn't been fired yet. Mr. Hershey has spent decades in the business, from his days in Washington to his long-tenure with DDN.

Jim Provance of The (Toledo) Blade, a reporter who has shown me professional courtesy during my years at OLCA, tapped me as he walked by with a stream of other people. That was good enough, considering the hubbub in the halls.

Dennis Willard, a senior Statehouse reporter with the Akron Beacon Journal, spoke with me in the House chamber following Strickland’s speech. Together, we collared Kevin DeWine, a bellwether voice of the Ohio GOP. Willard, sporting a faint crop of facial hair, then invited me to accompany him to a post-speech gathering Democrats were holding. I wasn’t aware of it, but Mr. Willard, with whom I continue to enjoy a cordial relationship, clued me in to it as a demonstration of the unwritten rules of professional courtesy among reporters to pass on information of this nature.

Reggie Fields, a reporter with The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, approached me outside the House chamber before the doors swung open to let us all in. Not having seen each other for a while, Mr. Fields He asked me how I was and what I was doing. When I showed him my OhioNews Bureau badge, he said, “Oh, you’re ePluribus!”

Mr. Fields then told me that Mr. Kostyu et. al had convened a meeting of the rank and file of OLCA to inform them of the board’s decision. Fields said he wasn’t there from the beginning, having arrived late. He did say that us ePluribus Media candidates were referred to as “bloggers” and that maybe one question was asked, but no vote was taken and that “no one questioned” the board’s decision.

Frankly, I have no idea what articles of mine or my colleagues the OLCA board members used, if they used any at all. I didn’t offer any, which I considering doing but didn’t since no mention of them was among the criteria on OLCA’s recently revamped membership application. So what they saw or used to make their assessment is anyone's guess. If they only looked at the ePluribus Community site, which is open to anyone who registers, I too would find some of it over the top.

Having written an article nearly every day for the past seven months, I had no idea which ones they arbitarily selected. But what ever articles they did look at, they would see that I often use articles many of these people themselves have written. So not only is my archive expansive, but if their claims of political bias are to be at all credible, they share some of the blame themselves for what they've written or the headlines their editors have slapped on them that later appear in my work as I make structure my reports.

Following the Columbus Dispatch's mention of it, I sent an email to Ben Marrison, editor of the Dispatch, asking for Op-Ed space to make our case, given seven of his reporters are members of OLCA and two of them are board members.

Mr. Marrison:

Last week The Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association, a group that includes seven Dispatch reporters, rejected three seasoned journalists put forward for Statehouse press credentials by the OhioNews Bureau (ONB) of ePluribus Media, a virtual, national news and information service in operation since 2005, that has earned a reputation for unique reporting and specialized news products and been become a recognized leader in professionalizing new-media journalists.

OLCA's board based their decision of rejection on "the appearance of political bias and a lack of adherence to professional journalism standards as referenced in the OLCA constitution." The Dispatch ran a a post about the rejection decision in your Daily Briefing section titled "Reporters say no to bloggers," which we believe shows the embedded industry bias held by main-stream media reporters who think "bloggers" are inferior to themselves.

Needless to say, those of us who constitute the OhioNews Bureau team at ePluribus Media, which OLCA did not challenge as not being a legitimate "established" news service, have been joined by other observers of Ohio media who picked up on this story and believe OLCA's decision was not only unfounded but raised serious, long-standing questions that go to the heart of the relationship between the Ohio General Assembly and OLCA members. Furthermore, we believe the board's decision turns a spotlight on certain aspects of OLCA's constitution and whether the group is complying with them.

We believe we fully understand, promote and adhere to the same kind of ethics and standards of journalism as does The Dispatch. As a result of the news of our rejection last week, the OhioNews Bureau, one of five news bureaus we aspire to create during this presidential election year, has been contacted by other individuals and groups formed around the cause of protecting bloggers in like manner to reporters, which have offered their assistance to us in pursuing membership in OLCA, under current practices or through reforms to the group that will recognize the contributions new-media groups like ours, and the citizen-journalists who power us Website. are making to change the landscape of what news is and who controls it.

Accordingly, Mr. Marrison, in light of the report The Dispatch ran on our pioneering effort and in your capacity as the paper's editor, we are asking you to give us a larger opportunity, through an Op-Ed column or other means you might suggest, to make a comprehensive case as to why the OhioNews Bureau and the citizen journalists who write for us should become accredited Statehouse reporters, enjoying the full benefits of active membership in OLCA, including the most prized privilege of all, access to the floors of the Ohio Senate and House.

We look forward to your response to allow your readers to hear our side of the story, as we believe others will as well, and will be grateful for any consideration you can afford us in making this request come true. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience, either through email or directly.

John Michael Spinelli
OhioNews Bureau Chief

After two weeks, no response from Ben.

I DON’T NEED NO STINKING (PRESS) BADGES

Sporting my new, cool OhioNews Bureau press badge, which was far more colorful and informational than either the standard-issue OLCA press badge, or even the one-day paper media badge print reporters from around the state were given, I had no problem engaging the aforementioned decision and policy makers. They knew me from my Statehouse reporting days, and respected my work enough to answer any and all questions I put to them.

My picture, as good as I'll ever look, is the same one that hangs in the Statehouse press room, as part of large framed composites of each class that traces the history of those who served in it. They might not accept me now, but they can't take my picture down.

Shaking hands with a host of elected and appointed officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, who greeted me with the same smiles and warmth they did when I was a member in good-standing with OLCA as recently as 2006, I looked on either side of the Speaker’s dais, where the blessed members of OLCA were sitting like sardines in a can in the section reserved for accredited (if only for the day) media, and wondered why they feared me so much to banish me from the wooden pews they were crammed into?

The chief of communications for the Senate Republican caucus walked by me in the House chamber and said with a smile, “Hey, John, how’d you get in here?” She had obviously been following the blogger reports on OLCA’s treatment of our request. Of all the print media in Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch was the only one to make mention of it; but it was short at that

SO WHAT'S THE PURPOSE OF OLCA, ANYHOW?

What was I giving up, in terms of access to these officials because of the unexplained xenophobia and outright hostility shown to me from the inner sanctum of a group that seems unaware that they are in violation of specific provisions of their own constitution and bylaws?

To me, I was free as a bird. I roamed the plush carpeted turf of the Ohio House, instead of being caged in like the talon-less birds of prey who fear making too many waves will lead their creator and ultimate controller, the Ohio General Assembly, to yank their chain by deciding to start charge them for space given to them for free now, or that a powerful institution like The Ohio State University will stop, as it has before, offering each member the opportunity to buy two season football passes just for being a member of OLCA.

Let’s face it, adhering to the “high standards of journalism,” which are not referenced in any way in either their constitution or bylaws, but which were alluded to in the totally subjective decision to deny me, and two other candidates ePluribus Media put forth last fall, OLCA membership. It may sound good, but below the patina of this weak argument lies the one real perk that few know about and certainly don’t talk about that would break the hearts of all if it disappeared.

The only other tangible advantage of OLCA membership is access to the Senate and House floors during legislative sessions. On regular session days, I would be barred from doing what I did yesterday because of a special, once-a-year event that allowed me, and other citizens like me to mingle and interact with lawmakers, administrative officeholders and their key staff members.

So I ask the question again: what’s the purpose of giving a policy-making (for the media at least), public body like OLCA (they are a creature of the General Assembly) exclusive access to the floors of the upper and lower bodies? What’s so important about a few feet of space? Are the reasons that led to its formation in 1893 by then-Statehouse reporter William Faulkner still relevant enough in today’s vastly changed world of news and information to justify their fear of adding a new-media, online news and information group to their ranks?

The issue we’ve pioneered in Ohio is also an issue in other states like , California, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas and even with the LAPD, where media screening groups like OLCA (which should not be confused with the Ohio Lactation Consultation Association) are being challenged by bloggers who have previous professional experience, as I do, in the established world of legacy news groups but who have migrated to the new world of Web news.

I also want to thank Jill Miller Zimon at Writes Like She Talks for her continued support and solidarity with the OhioNews Bureau in our glorious struggle to break into the old boy's and girl's club that is OLCA. Jill, more than any other Ohio blogger I read on a regular basis, is tuned into the growing debate between new-media journalists and old-media reporters, what is journalism and who is a journalist and who controls what news becomes news.

For the intrepid among you, here's all the background.

For the less intrepid, here's our media release. When asked to respond to the important questions posed in it, Mr. Kostyu responded that OLCA had indeed received our response to its decision, but chose not to comment. "We have no further comment at this time," he said on behalf of the board.

A terse response like this one, which a reporter expects to hear from a trial lawyer on behalf of their defendant, which these days could be a government official, a corporate honcho or a professional athlete who eats more than Wheaties to get in shape, when coming from representatives of the Fourth Estate whose major skill is writing, is worrisome.

For a helpful review of why ePluribus and the OhioNews Bureau are on the cutting edge (and there will be blood) in Ohio, here’s a nice piece to read.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS – BLOGGERS!

But we see more and more that new-media journalists, including bloggers (a term I dislike because of the negative connotations legacy reporters have given it) are being issued press credentials to more news events, like presidential debates, among others, that were previously the exclusive domain of the ilk OLCA’s allows in.

But OLCA at the Ohio Statehouse seems caught in a dilemma between its own history (which seems increasingly irrelevant these days) and the unjustified xenophobia they harbor that the new kids on the block will spoil their special club by diluting the power of turning their access into cash, and that the special perks of floor access or football tickets will evaporate. What’s a poor legacy reporter to do if that happens?

With print papers shrinking by the day, it’s no wonder they’re running scared at the growing legions of citizen-journalists who are standing toe to toe with them, and could equal or beat them at their own game if full access were given to them. The once fat but now slimmed-down empires of print journalism is clearly fearful of new-media journalists and “bloggers,” as evidenced by their inbred industry bias that denigrates them as being less than worthy of being called “reporters.” To that fear, I say hogwash and horse hockey.

The story I wrote, in my humble but obviously biased opinion, was as accurate, informative and unbiased as any story any OLCA member put out from covering the governor’s address.

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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OLCA

Interesting situation for the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association which was created by the Ohio General Assembly to issue credentials or floor passes to the news media.
A similar situation was faced in the 1980s with electronic news services including Hannah Reports, and the same initial reaction occured to turn down giving their reporters media credentials. Eventually, it worked itself out which is what I believe will occur here.
As a former President of OLCA, I think it would be a good time for them to decide on a broader criteria that includes on-line media. But I also respect the difficulty this may have in drawing the line on legitimate on-line services and those who want to "push" a cause.
Clearly, the primary reason for credentials is to allow legitimate media access and to keep out lobbyists posing as members of the media.
I urge you to find a way to resolve this with OLCA, particularly the issue of day passes for major events. Perhaps OLCA would work with GA to find another bench or two to accomodate those seeking day passes.
And work with those in the on-line media business on a criteria to be used to allow them to have credentials (perhaps on number of subscribers, length of time in the business, objectivity or openness in the content, etc.)

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MA

Good points...you should make them to OLCA, too

Welcome to the conversation erieshark. As a former staff writer for The Hannah Report for three years, I heard the stories of how membership in OLCA was kept from them for years because the hidden hand working against them was the financial self-interest of the group that calls themselves the "record of capital square," a small group that's been able to successfully throw its weight around to protect its subscriber base and the stream of revenue that flows from it. They all lead comfortable lives, and enjoy the special attention from legislators and lobbyists alike that comes from it. It's good to be king.

With a little luck, I'm hoping a white knight of some substance who has contacted me on this issue will come riding to rescue the OhioNews Bureau. If the help I hope arrives does arrive, we'll either work collaboratively with OLCA, in the spirit of the ways you suggest, or in ways that won't be to their liking in order to force the changes needed to permit a reporter like me to enter the forbidden zone that is the Statehouse press room.

"I choose not to grant it," is the silly, indefensible and arrogant response Mr. Kostyu gave me for asking for a one-day pass. How much damage did he think I was going to do in one day?

Other states, with similarly antiquated groups like OLCA, are waking up to the realization that the growth of new-media journalists like me, other citizen journalists and bloggers is a real force in reporting the news that won't disappear because legacy groups like OLCA with their legacy print members want them to.

Here's a link, erieshark, to a State Legislatures Magazine story that's in my SOTS post that talks about this issue in several other states and what's happening there. OLCA's leaders would benefit from reading it, but the entrenched, vested powers that run the group wouldn't want to do what you think they should do or what I have asked them to do because it would undermine their business of selling their floor privilege access and the glory that comes with it for cold, hard cash.

The leader of Media Bloggers Association has also contacted me after he read my first article on OLCA's rejection of me and two other journalists for membership.

Too bad you're not back at the helm at OLCA, erieshark, they could use you. It took them four months to get their organizational act together to deal with our first request. Unsatisfactory by any standards. And based on one reporter's rendition of their short 10-minute meeting where they gave little explanation about why they denied us "bloggers" membership, they could benefit from a short course in how to run an effective and efficient organization.

I do find it amusing and ironic that a group of people who make their living hunting information from others, clam up when they become the hunted. And for people who make their living at informing by writing, they suddenly got tongue tied. Look at how much I've written just in this one post. "I choose not to grant it." Their indefensible paranoia is showing. Please.

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Good for you John!

I am glad you got to the SOTS. Keep up the good work.

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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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