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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Governor bars bloggers from asking questions at press conferences

This is ridiculous. VPR reported yesterday that the Governor's office has barred bloggers from its press conferences. Last week, Adam Quinn of Vermonters First asked a question at the briefing, which prompted Jason Gibbs, the Governor's press secretary, to write a new policy detailing who should be allowed to attend.

According to VPR, He decided the opportunity is open only to:
"Bona fide working journalists who have a responsibility to report the news for a broadcast or print medium whose business it is to disseminate the news on a somewhat regular basis."

Wait, aren't bloggers working in print? They're using words. You can print them out on a piece of paper. And what does this mean for journalists who are working pro bono? Does this mean that volunteer reporters from Out in the Mountains would be barred? Does this mean that unpaid student reporters are barred? It certainly means that citizen journalists from sites like  iBrattleboro are barred.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but Philip Baruth basically sums them up. He has an excellent if too-cute account of why this is so outrageous at Vermont Daily Briefing. And Quinn addresses it, too.

I understand Gibbs being concerned that some liberal candidate could pay a blogger to ask inflammatory questions. Maybe there's a way bloggers can organize to keep that kind of dirty politics from happening. But short of that example, there is really no good reason to bar bloggers from those briefings.

I would think that having more bloggers at those press briefings is exactly the kind of thing we would all want to encourage in a country that's perpetually bemoaning the decline of its participatory democracy.

Trust me, you haven't heard the last of this.

UPDATE: Morgan Brown points out in the comments that bloggers aren't actually being barred from the press conferences, but *are* being barred from asking questions. That may be true. But I didn't read the VPR story that way, since it said James Dwinnell would promise not to "participate" either. So... not sure.

UPDATE II, 3/8/06:
Adam Quinn chimes in with a comment:

Cathy thanks for the interesting comments and support... Couple of points to add:

1) No one has said I can not ATTEND; only that I cannot ask questions.

2) Dwinell, from my understanding, will be ALLOWED to continue asking questions because he has worked out some sort of deal with the Addison Eagle to write something for them.

3) I have very strong feelings about NOT turning the Governor's weekly press conference into a circus. Bloggers like anyone else at the press conference has to respect the process, ask questions in a natural flow, and not be dis-respectful of others time (or try to dominate the conversation).

4) Finally, like the Governor energy policy, I am unaware of an actual written down policy of who can and who cannot ask questions at the Governor's press conference. I have been asking for one for over a month.

5) I'd love for another blogger to come and ask questions of the Governor.

Again, great to see your thoughts!

March 7, 2006 at 11:01 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink

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Comments

Am sure Jason Gibbs and company would point out they are not barring bloggers from the press conferences, just barring them from asking questions of either the Governor or others the Governor may have speaking, which of course amounts to the same thing: i.e., a gag that prevents full participation and allowing for a true public dialogue and discussion by any citizen regardless of their partisan label who may wish to attend and query the Governor. It is also very telling that it is only until this came up that they never questioned allowing James Dwinell to sit in -- as if he were an actual member of the press, sitting right at the press table, asking questions and receiving direct responses; although if memory serves me correctly, there were those who did during the Dean Administration, though nothing came of it but some muttering, etc.

Posted by: mwb | Mar 7, 2006 11:50:49 AM

Had brought it up because it has long been the practice that anyone from the public was allowed to attend the press conferences without ever asking for permission to do so, yet it was also understood -- although usually going unspoken -- that with it being an official press conference, only the press were allowed to ask questions (unless maybe the Governor or the staff opened it up to others during a particular event); much like how it is during committee meetings the legislature holds during the legislative session(s), etc. So being allowed to attend is one thing, participation is yet another.

While it may be true that James Dwinell said he would not participate, this does mean he will stop attending and being a fly on the wall, which anyone can do.

In fact I have done so previously on occasion. That said, I do believe that bloggers and others who are engaging in various forms of alternative media or, whatever one chooses to call it, should be allowed to ask questions.

What is also ironic about all this is that a blogger was allowed into the White House press conferences: i.e., Garrett Graff.

So why not allow bloggers or the likes of James Dwinell to do so here in Vermont; or am I comparing apples to oranges?

It seems to me that maybe someone like you should be showing up to participate Cathy and, since you wear two different hats, test the waters by blogging up your reports and find out where that leads.

It is just a thought.

This morning someone actually asked me to make such an attempt, however I explained how and why it would not work for me to try to do so.

Of course Darren Allen is both a journalist as well as (now also) a blogger (Hall Monitor) and I wonder what his and other j-bloggers think about all this as well?

Posted by: mwb | Mar 7, 2006 1:31:31 PM

Thanks for clarifying, Morgan. I think the Gov.'s office shouldn't restrict *all* bloggers from asking questions at press conferences. It makes sense to me that there be some kind of threshhold — say, a blog that's been around for a month or so, and has a certain readership, which would prevent people from just starting blogs and showing up. But to ban an entire category of writers (and journalists) doesn't make sense. Unless they're trying to be secretive.

Posted by: cresmer | Mar 7, 2006 1:37:10 PM

Am of course in complete agreement with you Cathy. Good points all.

Posted by: mwb | Mar 7, 2006 1:40:11 PM

PS

My apologies for all the comments from me on this one blog post, but just wanted to mention that -- so far anyway -- the Governor's Calendar listed on the Governor's Website does not include mention of a press conference for this week.

While I jump to no conclusions either way on the subject, one wonders if this only means there is no official press conference being held this week or if this means they have chosen to longer list/notice the press conferences for the public.

Posted by: mwb | Mar 7, 2006 1:57:22 PM

I think bloggers should be allowed to ask questions at the governor's press conferences.

The only concerns I might have about this are logistical. Is there enough time to answer all the questions and is there enough space in the room for all the people who want to be there?

But of course, those concerns existed before blogs anyway. I'm guessing these thresholds of practicality even aren't being bumped up against, and are not the issue.

What is the issue? Oh, there's no issue, really- just a paradigm shift and some institutional lag.

Jim Douglas's blogger-gagging shenanigans are unjustified. He'll probably come around and realize that pretty soon.

Posted by: Haik Bedrosian | Mar 7, 2006 1:58:37 PM

Cathy thanks for the interesting comments and support... Couple of points to add:

1) No one has said I can not ATTEND; only that I cannot ask questions.

2) Dwinell, from my understanding, will be ALLOWED to continue asking questions because he has worked out some sort of deal with the Addison Eagle to write something for them.

3) I have very strong feelings about NOT turning the Governor's weekly press conference into a circus. Bloggers like anyone else at the press conference has to respect the process, ask questions in a natural flow, and not be dis-respectful of others time (or try to dominate the conversation).

4) Finally, like the Governor energy policy, I am unaware of an actual written down policy of who can and who cannot ask questions at the Governor's press conference. I have been asking for one for over a month.

5) I'd love for another blogger to come and ask questions of the Governor.

Again, great to see your thoughts!

Posted by: AQ | Mar 7, 2006 6:30:46 PM

While I believe that there must be restrictions on who is and is not considered a “true journalist”, I would have to agree that within bounds, bloggers could certainly be recognized as so. As long as the blog is one that reports news on a regular basis, I don’t think that person could be excluded. In order to address the time restrictions on asking questions, one idea might be to offer up a lottery, pick numbers, etc., as to who would be able to ask the questions. I’m sure “real” reporters will balk at this idea, but why not? Then again, we are living in an era of limited free speech. So, how about IRV? People could vote on who should be allowed to ask questions, what types of questions could be asked, where they could be printed, and whether or not the Governor has to answer them. Hey, worked in Burlington.

Posted by: razmarie | Mar 8, 2006 5:18:36 PM

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