News Media

County Recognizes Guardian

After refusing to put the GUARDIAN on the county “media spam list” to offer tips about press releases posted to the county web site, Ada County has done a flip flop–thanks to a letter from Idaho Press Club president Betsy Russell.

Both Boise City and Ada County refused to recognize the GUARDIAN as a viable source of news and information, citing the issue of “credentials.” There is no agency in Idaho which licenses or issues press credentials to the media…a fact Ms. Russell explained in a letter to the county spin meister, Rich Wright. She also offered some cogent remarks about the United States Constitution which prohibits any laws restricting the freedom of the press.

Here is Wright’s reply:

Dear Ms. Russell:

This letter is in response to your correspondence sent to my office on
June 5, 2006. In your letter, you outline the Idaho Press Club’s position as it relates to David R. Frazier’s request to be added to Ada County’s media email notification group. Please be advised that Mr. Frazier’s email has been added to the list.

Thank you for providing information as it relates to the current state of media credentialing in Idaho. No doubt, journalists and press clubs across the entire nation have recently struggled with the question of whether online blog contributors should be considered journalists. In fact, in March, a California judge ruled bloggers are not journalists. In the case, three blog contributors were forced to reveal their sources after posting leaked information about a new, unreleased Apple Computer product.

That precedent-setting case aside, there are some organizations, such as the Idaho Press Club, that have started to legitimize web blogs as a grassroots form of journalism. Your endorsement, and your request that we recognize Mr. Frazier as a working member of the press, has prompted his inclusion in our media group. We are certain that he, as a member of the Idaho Press Club, will abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that so many members of the press have vowed to honor and uphold.

Respectfully,
Rich Wright
Director,
Ada County Public Information

This action has a much broader significance than may be apparent. In short, the method of delivery is not the issue. There is NO DIFFERENCE between printed pages, broadcast presentations or on-line delivery. Information is information regardless of the delivery method and it is not up to government to approve media outlets. We can only hope Boise City will get religion as well. It will save money for all of us.

UPDATE 6/23/06
Here is why blogs are so important to a free society. Reader “Jeff” points out that Rich Wright’s information is outdated and inaccurate. Lower court cases are NOT “precedent setting” and the appeal case which IS precedent setting goes in favor of the bloggers. The GUARDIAN works because the readers make it work. Simply put: “One Wright made a WRONG.”

Jeff’s note–
Guardian: I noticed your blog about the issue of press credentials and who qualifies as a journalist.
Rich Wright wrote: “In fact, in March, a California judge ruled bloggers are not journalists. In the case, three blog contributors were forced to reveal their sources after posting leaked information about a new, unreleased Apple Computer product.”

You may already know this, but that decision was overturned back in May (prior to Mr. Wright’s letter). “http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/27/MNGTGJ3K7S1.DTL”

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. There’s an even more troubling problem here. I asked some time ago to be added to both the Boise City and Ada County media News Release lists and both entities refused. What difference does it make whether an interested person is a member of the media or not? I actually do have media credentials from a local newspaper, but I don’t believe that should be relevant to this situation. Isn’t the point of sending out News Releases to inform interested members of the community?

    Boise City and Ada County should be begging to put people on their lists but these two entities use News Releases to try to control the news that does and does not get covered by the media, rather than to inform. Keep in mind that Ada County has added a Public Information Director, a position that did not exist prior to 2003.

    To their credit, ACHD had no problem adding me to their News Release e-mail list.

    Ada County claims that their News Releases are all posted on their website anyway. That’s not actually true. Many of their News Releases do eventually show up there, but some of them do not, and who has time to check constantly anyway?

    The City claimed that they have received so many requests that it would be difficult to add all the private citizens who wanted to be on their News Release list. When I then submitted a Public Records Request to find out the names of all those concerned citizens, I was told that all of the requests had been verbal and none had been made in writing. Huh!

    These local government agencies need to figure out that openness, and cooperation with interested members of the public, will serve them better in the long run. Otherwise, I am left wondering, what is it they have to hide? And when I wonder, I often go looking! If Boise City or Ada County has had a change of heart, my e-mail address is: sharonu@cableone.net

  2. Under Idaho law any document created by a public entity (except for personnel records and grand jury items) are in fact “public records and documents”.

    The fact that an agency will not include a person, organization, reporter, or blogger on a distribution list is simply nothing more than spin control by a hired flack!

    What is even more insane is that most flacks – are FORMER REPORTERS who would have been livid over the same practice – if they were still reporters. You must remember that most reporters do not ask tough questions or dig very hard becuase they hope to land the next flack job with the same agency or company they report on.

    The list of former reporters turned flacks is a mile long in this valley. AND by the way they usually carry the title of PUBLIC Information Officer – which you would think means that they are supposed to work at getting information to the public NOT restricting it. ANY restriction by any agency to anyone is simply nothing more than politics and control – nothing more.

  3. Yea for Betsy. She scores again.
    If there’s an opposite of your “dope” award, Betsy deserves it fairly often.
    (In the interest of full disclosure: I worked with Betsy some years ago at The Idaho Spaceman (sic), and she was the best of the best in the field at the time. Apparently she’s still right up there.)

    Reminder to Sharon re ” I was told that all of the requests had been verbal and none had been made in writing”: Both oral and written matters are “verbal.” Non-verbal communications are things such as nodding, waving, giving the one-finger salute, etc.
    “Verbal” simply means with words; non-verbal is without words.

    Other than that, keep giving ’em hell.
    With you, Betsy and Fraz all on their case, they don’t stand a chance to keep hiding under misinterpretations of the law, etc.
    — gp

  4. The Spin on news worthy topics in the last ten years has declined. This reminds me of a book I read at my University. ” The Propaganda Tactics of Adolph Hitler”. I see so many similarities to todays spin on the Network News. A News station can make any subject, relevent to any Political Party.The present actions of the US Government in the past ten years remind me of the definition of Authoritarian Leadership & Communism.What is imminent Domain ? Is this not Communism ?

  5. Guardian do you think the City was influenced by the conrtroversy going on now in the People’s Republic of Kentucky reported on here:
    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060623/D8IDUR1G0.html

  6. Way to go, Jeff, with the updated legal facts!

    Andrea – Yes, it would be possible to submit constant public records requests to the County (and/or City) to force them to provide copies of their News Releases. In this case, however, that would be a big waste of time for a couple of reasons. When the News Releases aren’t “fresh,” the news conference they were announcing has since passed, or the issue they address has been spun by the County and covered by the mainstream media already anyway. There is a high turnover rate among members of the mainstream media, and the newcomers often just don’t know enough to get to the real story.

    Look at the GUARDIAN’s poop farm story. It took a concerned, well-informed, private citizen/member of the alternative media (David Frazier) to get the real story before the City ever paid any attention or took action. The mainstream media are still playing catch-up!

    Can you imagine the level of government accountability we would have if well-informed people were actually notified in advance, attended news conferences, and asked probing questions?!

    The other problem with submitting constant records requests for the News Releases is the waste of resources. Although the County could legally respond electronically to public records requests, they continue to waste paper, time and public funds typing up and mailing paper responses.

    On those occasions when the Ada County Commissioners actually provide records in response to a request, they require the requestor to drive all the way to the Courthouse, in person, to pay four cents a page for the documents (sometimes just one or two pages) that could have been sent for virtually nothing, and instantaneously, electronically. These are the same people who claim they care about our air quality, quality of life, taxes and fees, etc. Actions speak louder than words. What they really care about is keeping the public in the dark so they can keep their positions, power and paychecks.

    Gordon – You are so right. The point is that when I called their bluff to produce evidence of all the people who had supposedly wanted to be on the City’s News Release list, they had no evidence. Besides, even if it had been 1000 people, so what? Adding names to an e-mail list takes practically no effort anyway – a lot less effort than it took them to send me the letter denying my request.

    So, now we are back to the fact that City leaders simply want to control and spin the information that goes out to the media and to the public. The GUARDIAN is helping to ensure that they do not get away with it!

  7. Jon Q Publique
    Jun 25, 2006, 11:04 pm

    Good work, Jeff!

    The following link provides more information about the decision with additional links to the Appeal Court’s decision in May, the lower court decision in March, and Apple’s original filing –
    http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1968434,00.asp.

    The Society of Professional Joournalists Code of Ethics that Mr. Wright (Wrong) refers to can be found at http://spj.org/ethics_code.asp.

    The noble Guardian may find the Appeals Court reference to “unique visits” of interest.

    Would someone with “credentials” please explain to we mere mortals just what that means. Besides access to news stories, that is. Since government agencies don’t issue “credentials” to journalists, just what entitlements do “credentials” bestow and who bestows them?

    Finally, it’s my understanding the state open records law specifically prohibits charging for less than 100 copies of records or less than two (2) hours of research labor. Also, if the request is made for records in electronic form the agency must provide them that way, charging only for the cost of the media. The statute is permissive about the request being made in writing – it’s up to the individual agency to decide if they want the request to be in writing or not. What gives with Ada County?

    JQP

  8. JQP – Press credentials in Idaho mean absolutely nothing. They are issued by anyone who owns a newspaper, or other form of media, and are worth only the paper on which they are written. But again, I have to ask, why should members of the media receive different treatment than anyone else anyway? Where do you suppose members of the media gets their tips and story ideas? It is often from “mere” interested citizens who should have the same access to records, meetings and elected officials as the media.

    The Idaho Public Records Act DOES allow government agencies to charge for copies of public records, but only the actual cost of the copies themselves, not the staff time it takes to find the records or make the copies. There are exceptions. They can charge for staff time as well if: 1) there are over 100 pages; 2) if non-public information is first redacted from the documents; or, 3) if it takes more than two hours to retrieve the documents.

    House Bill 718 (http://www3.state.id.us/oasis/H0718.html ) which was passed this past legislative session, addresses records in electronic form. Unfortunately, it only ALLOWS records to be provided electronically when requested, it does not REQUIRE the agency to do so.

    For more information about the Idaho Public Records Law, check out the Attorney General’s helpful manual at: http://www2.state.id.us/ag/manuals/publicrecords.pdf

  9. Jon Q Publique
    Jun 27, 2006, 8:28 am

    Thanks Sharon.

    I agree that interested citizens should have the same access to media releases as the media. I also agree that the media should not receive preferential treatment when it comes to media releases. In this day and age there is no reason not to put the “ordinary” citizen on an media press release email list when they request it. What IS the problem in doing that?

    The other question I see with this issue is: are the PIOs denying the requests based on written policy formally approved by elected officials or is it the PIOs own “policy”? If it is their own policy, did elected officials formally give them authority to make their own policy?

    It’s interesting to me the County can afford to hire a PIO (at what salary?) when the folks in the Assessors Office are swamped with work because of growth and are told, that there isn’t money to hire additional staff there. Perhaps I’m getting bad information but, if that is true, my question is: where are the priorities?

    As to the charging for copies issue, the Idaho statute is permissive on that subject. Apparently the County has adopted a charging ordinance which as their right. Charging 4 cents a copy is a bit ridiculous when one considers the loss of employee productivity doing the paperwork for the copy charges and the administrative costs of tracking these minuscule amounts through the accounting system. I’m not saying don’t charge for copies. I am saying let’s be realistic about when we start charging. Is it a 100 copies, 200 copies? I don’t know.

    Where do I suppose members of the media gets their tips and story ideas? Perhaps sometimes it does come from “mere” interested citizens. My experience with the media tells me otherwise. Just getting the media to return phones or emails is nearly impossible – even when you present them with factual information (usually from an agency’s own records) in phone messages, emails, or, in one case, a personal visit to a station. If they do contact you, they feign interest then disappear. Recent comments by the credentialed Guardian on this website leaves me with the impression even he has difficulty getting the attention of the media.

    Reporters seem to care only about “fluff” pieces, not hard news. It’s easier and it doesn’t offend anyone. Legislators are easier to contact, meet with, and discuss issues with than the local media.

    The Boise Guardian provides a valuable service. He, like you, seems willing to tread where others fear to go. Keep up the good work both of you.

    JQP

  10. curious george
    Jun 30, 2006, 11:59 am

    All,

    Check out the following link to a rather obscure section of Idaho Statute – Title 60, Chapter 1, Section 60-106.

    http://www3.state.id.us/cgi-bin/newidst?sctid=600010006.K

    This actually defines the only type of publication which the State considers a “newspaper”, as it relates to the communication of legal notices to the public. Things like: how many subscribers the newspaper has to have, how long it has to have been in continuous publication, the frequncy of publication, what printing method the paper must use (mimeographing is not permitted), how many columns of print it must have, even the physical size of the paper is mandated.

    Now there is a difference between keeping the public informed, blogs certainly do, but an “official” newspaper that government entities can use to communicate to the public is severly restricted. This statute specifically uses the term “county” as the smallest political subdivision that can be used to assess a newspaper’s coverage area.

    Although this only defines the restrictions the state has placed upon itself, counties, and cities, regarding the “qualifications of newspapers printing legal notices” (the actual title of the statute) – a sound arguement could be made that political subdivisions of the state shouldn’t be referring the general public to non-qualifying publications for any information.

    Sorry to be a downer – feel free to disagree!

  11. George–
    There is a big big stretch between FREEDOM OF THE PRESS and qualifying as a “legal ad publication.” Actually the law is structured around early Post Office regulations to qualify for 2nd class postage–a subsidy to deliver newspapers which Ben Franklin got passed for his own benefit.

    Qualifying for legal ads has nothing whatsoever to do with being a news radio, TV, or internet blog outlet. Government simply doesn’t have the right to decide who they want “qualify” to get information.

    The California appeals court understood and ruled in favor of blogs (see Jeff’s comment and link in this thread). Hope this isn’t a downer for you.

  12. curious george
    Jun 30, 2006, 2:58 pm

    “Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who was taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it everyone? Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? There must have been some. The LOGIC (emphasis added) cannot be refuted, but someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?”

    The Trial, Franz Kafka

    Mr. Logic, I always thought there was a difference between being informed of an event (or action), and being forcibly kept from commenting on the same.

    Does a local government’s actions to not send out notices of general (potentially news worthy) information to some members of the press, equate to Congress making a law that abridges freedom of the press?

    Does that same government’s maintenance of a shortlist of media outlets constitute a “qualification” process? Or is it simply an attempt to get information out to the people as quickly and efficiently as possible?

    It seems the easiest and most “logical” (and most legally defensible) action of that same government is to simply treat every such notice as a (paid) legal advertisement. In Ada County the Statesman would qualify as such an outlet, then all legal obligations would have been met, every other news outlet (regardless of the media type) could fend for itself. Of course the people would pay, since most news worthy events would have already come & gone before the advertisement could be published.

    Doesn’t everything else fall under the category of “courtesy to members of the press”, not an attempt to establish a law abridging the press’ freedom?

    The Bill or Rights was written to protect the public, not to ensure that the press’ feeling aren’t hurt. Any press outlet that views itself as the legal alterego of the public is probably full of itself.

    Sometimes “reality” encroaches like the Man in the Yellow Hat. As for me, I still remain haplessly and naively curious. And, I am happy that people are still willing to engage in debate (and that there is a forum for that debate, electronic or otherwise). Thank you.

  13. Oh my goodness. I’ve been away for a while and its so good to be back and find this topic getting so much attention! It is truly amusing to see that Rich Wright is at the center of a debate about “journalism – credentialing.” Hello. Rich Wright has no credentials or meaningful experience in the field of “journalism.” He did some time in the so-called “newsrooms” at two of the poorest performing tv stations in the market and goodness knows you do not have to have “credentials” or be a “journalist” to be hired in a local tv newsroom. Just turn on your tv any evening of the week and look at the people who are wasting your time with stories that have no significance to any of us.

    I’ve said this before, although I fully realize it is a waste of time and energy, but Boise is a Capital (al or ol?) city and we deserve a real “media” here. Unfortunately, the days of real journalism are long gone and if it weren’t for bloggers, we would have no place at all to get real information and/or opinions on current events. How long since you’ve seen a local tv news department with a city hall reporter who actually knows whats going on in city government? County government? ACHD? etc. etc. Their morning staff meetings are like games where each person present has to present an “idea” for a way to fill a minute or two on that evenings broadcast (please don’t refer to it as a newscast) and if the idea is simple enough to be “visualized” by 5pm…it probably gets the nod. Whether the “idea” has any significance to the public (us) is rarely an issue.

    By the way, speaking of local TV. The gentleman who pretty much single handedly destroyed whatever credibility KBCI might ever have had as a “news” station was recently fired from his position as GM. Anybody care to wager on whether the quality of 2 news will improve? Naw.What a shame. If just one of the local stations actually started striving for excellence in journalism, it might force the others to follow suit.

    Congratulations to Dave and all of you who take the time to read and comment on issues of some importance to this community. Lord knows our “media” have long since abandoned that responsibility.

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