Journalists’ Group Weighs In On Capitol Access

This week the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists delivered duplicate letters to House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Senate President Peter Groff providing its position on the newly formed five-member Colorado Capitol Press Association. “To put it bluntly,” writes Colorado SPJ President John Ensslin, “their views are not our views.”

Keep reading for the full letter.

Colorado Professional Chapter
SPJ Society of Professional Journalists

Andrew Romanoff
Speaker of the House
Colorado Legislature

Peter Groff
Senate President
Colorado Legislature

22 January 2008

Thank you for inviting me and several members of the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to discuss the credentialing process for reporters covering the Legislature.

We thought it might be helpful, to share with you in advance of our Jan. 23 meeting, the views of the board of directors of the Colorado SPJ.

We recently became aware of the controversy surrounding the access journalists are granted while the Legislature is in session.

It is our understanding that an ad hoc committee of five journalists has been acting in an advisory capacity to the leadership for the purpose of deciding who should be credentialed as journalists.

It is also our understanding that this committee has recommended that two of our board members, Cara DeGette and Don Knox*, have been recommended for access under two of their affiliations (the Colorado Springs Independent and Law Week respectively) but that they were recommended for denial under two of their other affiliations (Colorado Confidential and State Bill).

Our concern in this matter stems less from the particulars of their status and more with the general problem of a small group of journalists being allowed to influence decisions on who is to be considered a journalist and thus limiting the ability of others to cover the Legislature.

We are concerned that this group is not representative of journalists as a whole in Colorado. To put it bluntly, their views are not our views.

SPJ is one of the oldest, largest and most respected journalism organizations in the nation. Founded in 1909, we currently represent about 9,000 journalists nationwide. The Colorado chapter of SPJ was formed in 1949 and currently has 155 members statewide.

In our view, allowing a small unrepresentative group of reporters to sit in judgment of other reporters, even in an advisory capacity, is both wrong and inappropriate.

To our mind, the legislature would be better served by relying upon the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, two long-established, respected organizations. The CPA in particular has a long history of serving as credentialing agency for the state’s news media.

We realize that with the advent of various online and non-traditional news organizations that the question of “who is a journalist?” has become more complex in recent years.

But it has been SPJ’s view both on the national and local level that the access and protection granted to people engaged in news gathering for readers on matters of public policy should be upheld regardless of how they go about delivering that news or how long they have been in business.

For example, in 2006 SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund provided $50,000 – the largest such grant in our history – to a young San Francisco blogger who was imprisoned by federal authorities after he refused to turn over videotape of a demonstration he had covered.

These are different times, to be sure. But our belief is that democracy is best served when there is broad and open access to the deliberations of government.

To that end, the Colorado Legislature is to be applauded for two of its practices, one new and one old.

We appreciate the Legislature’s long standing tradition of providing reporters with access to lawmakers while the legislature is in session.

We also commend the Legislature for its recent decision to televise its proceeds. We believe this will enable the public to have a far greater understanding of the workings of its government.

We stand ready and willing to work with you on finding an acceptable solution to this matter.

Yours truly,

John C. Ensslin
President
Colorado Society of Professional Journalists

cc… [CCPA member] Charles Ashby, [CPA Executive Director] Ed Otte

* Full disclosure: Don Knox and Cara DeGette, who are on the board of Colorado SPJ, have recused themselves from the organization’s deliberations and actions involving this issue, due to conflict of interest.

Note: This is the latest installment of a series of stories exploring the evolution of journalism and the emergence of online-only news organizations. Click here to read the first story, about the formation of the newly formed Colorado Capitol Press Association and its efforts to determine which reporters and news organizations that cover the Capitol are legitimate — and which are not.

Click here for the story detailing the CCPA’s decision recommending that two Colorado Confidential reporters, along with another online news organization, State Bill Colorado, be prevented from receiving full access to state lawmakers.

And click here to read about the barriers that one of Colorado’s legendary newsmen, Gene Amole, and the resistance he encountered during a career that spanned radio, television and print journalism.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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