Post Politics: Can party hacks be journalists?

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 10:45pm
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The Capitol Hill press corp (photo: TNHistoryforKids.org)

Just who is considered media down at Legislative Plaza and who gets to make that decision seems to be a matter of much debate since a local liberal media personality revealed that she may be pushed out of the Capitol Hill press corps.

Mary Mancini, half of the team behind the local public affairs radio program Liberadio(!), posted late last month on her blog that an “intermediary” — later determined to be state Rep. Mike Turner — advised her that the press corps president Eric Schelzig of the Associated Press was going to revoke her pass because he believed her to be in the employ of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

In the resulting blogstorm, Mancini revealed that she had indeed received a total of $2,000 in consulting fees from the party from September 2009 to December 2009. At the same time, she held a state-issued press pass to cover the legislature.

Schelzig would not comment on the situation because he had not had a chance to discuss the issue with Mancini. What he was able to tell Post Politics was that most of our questions about who qualifies for legislative press passes should be directed to the Office of Legislative Administration. They, not he, have “ultimate control over who gets to rent space in the press room and over who gets a press badge,” he said.

Interestingly, Connie Ridley, the director of the agency, whom Post Politics contacted on the very same day as Schelzig, told a different story.

“We issue photo IDs to employees of the legislature, cafeteria staff and those who are a part of the Capitol Hill press corps who pay rent. The press corps determines who is a part of that group and provides our office guidance,” Ridley explained. “The issue seems to rest between Ms. Mancini and the Capitol Hill press corps, and we would defer to them for comment.”

It appears that no one down at the Plaza is very eager to explain exactly who is considered “legitimate” media and who isn’t. And who can blame them? These days, the terms “journalist” and “media” are becoming harder to define. While by many measures the traditional media is on the ropes, there is no dearth of folks who wish to cover the legislature. Be they bloggers, libertarian thinktanks or grant-funded nonprofits, more and more nontraditional journalists are looking to be treated as equals alongside the Old Guard.

So what is the barrier to entry? In reality, there is nothing preventing anyone from covering the legislature. As Mancini herself concedes, there is nowhere you can’t go in Legislative Plaza without a press pass other than the floors of the House and Senate. While it is a nice perk to be on the floor, it is not necessary to do the work of a journalist.

Equally interesting is whether it matters that Mancini did some consulting work for the Democratic Party. Do those invoices close the book on whether she is a journalist? It’s not like her biases are a secret, and she’s not the only journalist there with a slant.

Mancini did blur the line more than most. But the fact is, media has always been closer to that line than anyone has ever wanted to concede, and no one is getting any further away these days.

As it becomes harder for corporations in the news biz to turn a profit, alternative media are filling the void. Certainly some new media models that stay true to the old ways of independence and objectivity will remain. But with profit margins thin and barriers to entry low, it will be impossible to keep anyone out. We are all media now — or, at least, we all have the capacity to be.

This is not an endorsement or celebration of the new reality. Democratization of media, just as it is in the political world, is messy and inefficient. Purity of craft and pursuit of truth will get lost. The new world will not be better than the old — it will just be different.

The Capitol Hill press corps will and probably should limit the “official press credentials” to those who rent space at the Capitol. It, too, is an arbitrary and unfair distinction. But, then again, so would any other be.

Obviously, no one working for a political party should be considered a journalist, but in the end, it’s not going to matter who is deemed a journalist by state workers at the legislature or any association of media professionals. The media consumer is going to have to decide for herself what to make of the noise on the Internet.

All we can do is hope that more people than not will have the wisdom to know the difference between those truly independent folks who seek to transmit the truth and those who wish only to indoctrinate and manipulate. Honestly, I haven’t a whole lot of faith.

Visit Kleinheider at postpolitics.net

1 Comment on this post:

By: brrrrk on 2/9/10 at 11:10

Can party hacks be "journalists"? Really? Have you seen Fox?