In a nod to the growing influence of online journalists, New York City said Tuesday that bloggers and others who publish on the Web will now be eligible for press credentials.
The move comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2008 by three Web journalists who were denied press passes. In New York, journalists with press passes are typically allowed to cross police barricades at public events.
Under the new proposed policy, the New York Police Department would be able to issue press passes good for two years to any journalist who has personally attended and reported on at least six qualified events in the city in the preceding two years, regardless of whether the reports were published online, in print newspapers, magazines, books or other media. Events that will qualify include city-sponsored activity -- like a press conference or parade -- as well as emergencies where the city has set up do-not-cross lines. The proposal also allows inexperienced journalists to obtain single-use press passes.
Longtime civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, who represented the journalists who sued, says the city will now decide who a journalist is by looking at the type of work they do, and not the organization they write for. "This addresses one of the major issues with regard to a online journalists," he says. "Bloggers should be treated equally to television, print and radio journalists."
David Wallis, one of the writers who sued, adds that the proposed new policy is less arbitrary than existing standards. "We believe that we have created a fairer system for online and offline journalists both to cover news in the greatest media city," says Wallis, CEO of the syndication company Featurewell.
Wallis says he possessed press credentials for many years, but allowed them to lapse while working on books about censorship. He attempted to obtain new credentials in 2007, but his application was rejected. "When I went to renew my application, suddenly they were saying that I was not a quote-unquote 'legitimate' journalist," he says.
The other two reporters who filed suit were Rafael Martínez Alequin, former publisher of The Brooklyn Free Press and currently publisher The New York City Free Press and the blog Your Free Press, and Ralph E. Smith, a reporter and publisher for GuardianChronicle.com.
Questions about how to determine who is a journalist have also come up in determining whether shield laws -- which allow journalists to protect their sources -- should cover bloggers.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says that some other policymakers are moving toward an approach like that proposed by New York. "More and more, they are looking for folks who have a track record. They are fully aware that mode of dissemination should not make a difference. They are fully aware of the fact that, in this day and age, income makes no difference. So what they're looking for tends to be some evidence of experience."
"Certainly you can't give credentials to everybody with a computer," she adds.