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Friday, November 19, 2010

In Lake Oswego, a Blogger is not a "Journalist"

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 11:59 AM

Lake Oswego is trying to legally define "journalist." The problem is that journalists don't fall into one easy box these days.

The Portland Tribune details the ongoing story of local progressive blogger Mark Bunster, who runs Loaded Orygun and wanted to sit in on Lake Oswego city council executive sessions. Oregon has this fuzzy law where city council can call an "executive session" if the commissioners want to discuss something off record—no one from the public can attend except journalists and even journalists can't directly report on what happens at the session, just sit in and make sure all the rules are followed.

Lake Oswego kicked Bunster the Blogger out of one of their executive sessions on account of him not being a "journalist." But Bunster does report on the city council (even though his blog is a little old), he's even a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. So why is he not a journalist?

Lake O's city attorney has spelled out in new rules that a journalist must be from "institutionalized" media, so someone can be held accountable if the reporter breaks the rules. Here's the specifics from the Tribune article (I'm not one to harp on typos because I make them all the damn time here on the blog, but I kept them in this quote because I think it's funny that an article detailing how one of the criteria for being "media" is having a process to correct errors has multiple spelling problems):

Right off the bat, the policy defines media as any organization that has been previously recognized as eligible to attend executive sessions, such as The Oregonian and the Lake Oswego Review.

Secondly, anyone who is a member of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, Oregon Association of Broadcasters or the Associated Press will be addmited [sic].

Any newspaper that the local government uses for publishing public notices would also be admissible. Open Oregon urged the inclusion of this requirement because some small, rural newspapers may not be members of ONPA or AP but are still well-established media insitutions [sic] in their communities.

To address non-traditional media, there is a two-part test. First, it must be organized and regularly publishing, broadcasting or transmitting news that reports on local government. Second, it must be “institutionalized” and committed to uphold the law regarding executive session. Institutionalized is defined to mean that an entity must have multiple personnel, must have names and contact information of personnel readily available and has a process for correcting errors.

This seems like a pretty decent definition for now, except it will rule out people who run one-person blogs and could be enforced arbitrarily to exclude critical reporters from executive sessions. It's also risky defining something that's sure to change in the very near future.

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