For the first time individual "bloggers" are receiving credentials while covering state politics in Olympia. Curt Woodward, who is president of the Capitol Correspondents Association, said members of the group had gotten together before this legislative session began, to revisit the rules governing who was, and who wasn't, a journalist.
Receiving credentials is a handy little tool to have while down in Olympia. Other than allowing a reporter access to the wings of the House and Senate chambers, it is really nothing more than a status symbol. But it is a status symbol that is useful when you need to brace a State senator or representative with a question or two.In the past, an eligible member of the working press had to be employed and receive their primary income from a FCC licensed television or radio station or a daily or weekly newspaper of general circulation.
Woodward said that definition had become too restrictive and that there was no point in precluding an online political reporter who was doing the same job as someone working for a daily publication.
"If you have someone doing the same thing, but not spraying ink on a paper, what's the difference?" Woodward asked.
Once that conclusion was made, however, there had to be guidelines. Not every person who has a pet blog, Facebook page, newsletter or Twitter account is a journalist.
Ultimately, the answer came from the Washington's Media Shield Law, pushed by Attorney General Rob McKenna and signed in 2007. Originally the bill protected traditional media outlets from divulging sources and having the notes of reporters subpoenaed. That definition was expanded to include "business entities" gathering news; in other words a website acting as a news portal.
The Correspondents Association had to be careful, because Woodward said that ultimately it is the state legislature which has the final say in who has access into its chambers. As things now stand, there is a gentleman's agreement that the press will police itself.
So far, the issue has been fairly moot, and despite the number of political blogs cropping up like mushrooms online, there has not been a run on the market for credentials in the state capitol.
According to Woodward, the only two "bloggers" applying for credentials this session have been Josh Feit, of Publicola.net and Scott St. Clair, who manages the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's blog and monthly newspaper. EFF bills itself as a non-partisan think tank but the group is also well known for its stance advocating conservative and libertarian themed policy issues while also feuding with the WEA teachers union over proper education standards in state schools.
Publicola got the nod. EFF was turned down.
Woodward cautioned that the decision wasn't meant to reward or punish a reporter based on their political views. Publicola is regarded as a forum for advocacy journalism coming from a liberal viewpoint. Scott is an out-an-out conservative whose columns have appeared in newspapers across the state.
But Woodward stated that think tanks are by definition not news outlets. The rule also applies to lobbyist groups and political parties that happen to employ people calling themselves "reporters", working on blogs and printing "newspapers".
"Lobbyists aren't allowed in the wings unless invited in," Woodward explained. "The problem is we have to be careful... having press credentials, it would be a way that [lobbyists] could get in and have access that they normally wouldn't."
Extra: With the decline of printed media and newsrooms cutting back on costs, Woodward said the size of Capitol Correspondents Association has declined to nine members. The size of the press corps in Olympia has also declined with the demise of the print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. So far, none of the reporters from the online edition have sought credentials in Olympia.