Last week, two reporters from Idahoreporter.com, a brand new news portal owned by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, petitioned to join the Capital Correspondents Association. They were denied press credentials, a move upheld by the unanimous vote of the members of the association.
The Capitol Correspondents Association is the association of reporters and media affiliates credentialed to cover 6the Legislature. They are stationed in a press room—formerly called the pit, but now on the Garden Level of the newly renovated Idaho State Capitol. Membership provides for press access to the floor of the House and Senate, as well as to hearing rooms and the association serves to provide a unified voice for reporters who cover the Legislature.
IFF is a free market think tank run by Wayne Hoffman, a registered lobbyist. According to its mission statement, IFF is a non-profit “that develops and advocates the principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility, private property rights, economic freedom, and limited government.”
The correspondents were asked to allow Dustin Hurst and Brad Iverson-Long, the Freedom Foundation's two reporters, entrance into the association. Being a member of the CCA means access to the press room in the Capitol, use of press tables in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floors, and the ability to wear the brown press badges around the building.
The standing committee of the association and its president, Betsy Russell, had already informed Hoffman that his reporters did not meet the standard for inclusion in the association.
The bylaws of the association stipulate the definition of an eligible correspondent:
Article 3: Definitions
(1)For purposes of this Association, a “news organization” is a general circulation newspaper, web outlet, radio station, or television station, or a network or syndicate that has a contractual agreement with a general circulation newspaper, web outlet, radio station or television stations to provide regular coverage of the Idaho Legislature and state government.
(2)For purposes of this Association, a “news organization” is not one that produces for or by an organization with membership requirements, or one that produces for or by an organization that exists to advocate, lobby or otherwise influence legislative, executive or judicial decisions.
(3) For purposes of the Association, a “correspondent” includes reporters, photographers, videographers, and other individuals employed by a news organization whose task is to cover the Idaho State Legislature.
Russell of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, gave the Idaho Reporter team a chance to plead their case in a meeting on Friday, but the association’s members upheld the ruling that idahoreporter.com fell under the category of advocacy, rather than news.
“This is not a value judgment about the quality of anybody’s reporting or anything like that," Russell said. "It is simply a matter of what constitutes a news organization, and under our bylaws, an advocacy organization is not a news organization.”
Russell said she is glad more people are covering the Legislature and that not being part of the Capitol Correspondents in no way hampers anyone's right to work at or cover the capitol: they just can't wear a brown tag or use the press pit.
Wayne Hoffman, a former reporter himself, had this to say about the decision:
“Reporters are still going to go out and do quality journalism, regardless of the decision of the Capitol Correspondents Association. No, I don’t [agree with the decision]. My understanding is the decision was made based on the fact that the Idaho Freedom Foundation is the owner of the Idahoreporter.com product. As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter who owns the news outlet, as long as they're abiding by the standards of good journalism ... I'm not involved in day-to-day news operations. I might offer my insight, having covered the Legislature. I never know what stories are going to be on there because I leave it to them to cover the stories of the day.”