Oregon officials struggle with definition of “news media”

Oregon officials continue to struggle with the issue of whether bloggers qualify as part of the “news media” that must be allowed to sit in on otherwise closed meetings held in executive session.

Oregon state law doesn’t provide a clear definition of “news media,” so different jurisdictions have been making their own rules.

A blogger in Lakeside, Oregon is now pushing for access to local executive sessions, according to a news account earlier this year.

Officials say bloggers will be more likely to break the rules by disclosing information from executive sessions that should remain confidential.

Christian Gaston, president of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Oregon chapter, says those fears are overblown.

Gaston says while executive sessions are held for good reasons, few bloggers would intentionally reveal information. If they did, the council’s best weapon would be to bar them from future meetings.

‘In my mind, the law already has an escape clause for someone who doesn’t want to play by the rules,” Gaston said.

Gaston says Oregon allows reporters to attend executive sessions so politicians don’t wander into topics that deserve public discussion. Privately discussing the price of land is fine, but privately discussing the land’s prospective uses is not.

As financially stressed newspapers trim their reporting staffs, bloggers such as Macduff increasingly may fill the watchdog role, Gaston said.

Here in Hawaii, the reporters shield law provides a relatively expansive definition that would provide many bloggers with the same protections as professional reporters employed by mainstream media (although the legislature is under under pressure from the Abercrombie administration to substantially weaken the law). At least for the time being, some local bloggers would likely qualify if the “news media” were allowed to attend executive sessions.

3 responses to “Oregon officials struggle with definition of “news media”

  1. But this begs the question, what is a blogger? As someone pointed out yesterday, those who leave comments on blogs are often referred to as bloggers. I guess that this question will make up tomorrow’s post.

  2. Perhaps membership in SPJ (and maybe other professional journalism associations) might be one of the qualifications. Just a thought.

  3. About 15 years ago I found myself in Oregon on vacation and, through a series of events, found myself being asked to attend a meeting directly related to an ongoing local Kaua`i story I had been reporting on. That’s when I found out about this insane law. I was urged by local Portland activists to stay and attend an executive session because, I was told, I was a “reporter” (having previously written news stories and produced a local Kaua`i TV news program on the subject) and, I was told, reporters could, by law, attend.

    I had no idea what to do- I couldn’t imagine not being able to “use” whatever I found out in ES especially because this was about wrongdoing according to those who had urged me to attend the meeting. And even if I accepted the premise and treated the information as an off the record source, could I use it if I got independent corroboration? I raised a lot of ethical questions for me.

    I finally refused to attend because I really a) at first couldn’t believe that this could really be the law and b) when I was shown the law I couldn’t imagine knowing and not using the revelations made in ES.

    I still don’t get it. I kind of like the concept of keeping them honest but the question of what is and isn’t covered by a specific ES exemption is murky at best sometimes. Do I as a reporter get to decide what to publish if I’m in on an ES? What are the “penalties” for revealing what I find out? And moreover what are my first amendment rights as far a freedom of the press goes? The distinctions between freedom of speech and freedom of the press often depends on the circumstance and, courts have ruled in some areas, one is indistinguishable from the other.

    What a can of worms.

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