Long-time readers of Gothamist may remember that we've applied for NYPD press passes a couple of times, and have gotten denied. The explanation we were given was that the NYPD only credentials traditional media— radio, print, and television— and that online reportage simply did not qualify. So it was with great interest that we attended today's public discussion of "Rules for City Issued Press Credentials" at New York Law School.
As part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought by Norman Siegel on behalf of three online-journalists that had their applications for press passes denied, the city has agreed to consider revising the press pass rules. As part of that process, Gabriel Taussig of the New York City Law Department and Siegel outlined the proposed new rules for the three dozen journalists, bloggers, and other concerned citizens who showed up, and solicited some feedback. Here is an overview:
- Restrictions limiting press passes to certain mediums will be removed— in the future, online, offline, on-air, etc. will all be treated equally.
- To qualify for a press pass, the journalist or journalism organization will need to provide six clips from the last 24 months showing news-gathering activity that would require a press card— that would include live reportage from police and fire scenes, public assemblies, government press conferences, or similar events.
- The new system will consist entirely of working press cards, reserve cards (issued to freelancers by a news organization), and single-event cards. The other press cards that were issued as a courtesy (but didn't allow the reporter to cross police or fire lines) will be eliminated.
- If an applicant for a press card is denied, there is a formal process to appeal, in which the city has a set period of time (90 days) to respond to the appeal. Previously, the city had no time limit for response, and applications often fell into a black hole of city bureaucracy.
After their presentation, people in the audience were allowed to ask questions. One of the main criticisms brought up is that it's difficult for a freelancer to assemble six clips without a press card, and without those clips the freelancer can't get a press card, creating a chicken-and-egg situation. Some of the mainstream organizations also wondered whether their managing editors would be allowed to get cards, given that they only report from scenes infrequently, but still need the cards for big emergencies like 9-11 or the Transit Strike. Other reporters were concerned the NYPD doesn't train its officers to respect press passes, and that the reserve press cards (which have no picture) are often impossible to use. And finally, some of the bloggers in the audience worried that the NYPD might reject our clips because they didn't have enough "on-the-scene" reportage, and the definition of that is vague. Does one fact reported from the scene count, or do you have to include an interview with a witness? What about a picture?
While most agreed that revising the rules was a good idea, some of the mainstream reporters worried that hordes of bloggers might block their access to important events. Siegel said that he did not expect it be an issue (he pointed out that even Mayor Bloomberg's press conferences are rarely oversubscribed) but if it did become a problem, the various parties would gather again to determine a solution.
Under the new rules, it seems like Gothamist would qualify for the new credentials. Once the new rules go into effect (a process that will take many months), we'll have each of our full time writers and editors apply, and we'll also ask for a couple of reserve cards for our interns and freelancers. We'll report back once we're approved or denied. It is our hope that with the new rules, the playing field for bloggers and professional journalists will become a little more level, and we'll have access to the same sources and scenes that current mainstream journalists take for granted. Hopefully, as a result, the quality of our reportage will improve, and we'll be able to pick up some of the burden being shed by the dying mainstream media organizations.