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Bluey Calls For Capitol Access For Bloggers

May 1, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Open House Project, a temporary working group of bloggers, government watchdog groups, and media activists, has been working for months on a series of recommendations that they will present to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) in order to help her live up to her pledge of making the 110th Congress “the most honest, ethical and open Congress in history.” The Hill is running a series of op-eds in anticipation of the Open House Project releasing its report. The first in the series was written by Rob Bluey, the director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and the author of the “Citizen Journalism Access” chapter of the report. In it, he calls for the creation of an “Online Media Gallery” and a new set of rules that are applicable to citizen journalists who use blogs to report on Congress.

>In the absence of a congressional press gallery for online journalists, the Periodical Press Gallery has taken on the responsibility of credentialing these individuals. However, given its history of dealing primarily with magazines and newsletters, the gallery’s rules are not well suited for news websites, citizen journalists and bloggers.
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>The problem isn’t necessarily resistance from politicians wanting to keep bloggers at a distance. Rather, the biggest hurdle bloggers must overcome is distrust among the Capitol Hill press corps. The House and Senate press galleries take their marching orders from mainstream journalists, who have little incentive to invite enterprising bloggers to their coveted stomping grounds.
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>Journalists from media companies make up the committee that governs the Periodical Press Gallery. They oversee admission to the gallery and administer its strict rules.
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>Many of those rules would automatically disqualify bloggers, such as the requirement that applicants must provide daily coverage of Congress — a prerequisite that would be burdensome for any one-person operation. Another rule prohibits gallery members who work for nonprofits, severely limiting the number of bloggers who could apply.
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>A much-overdue solution would be to create an Online Media Gallery to oversee the credentialing process. This gallery would serve as a sister organization to existing congressional press galleries, adapting the rules of those galleries for individuals who operate exclusively on the Internet. The formation of the gallery would allow a committee of peers to establish new rules applicable for websites.
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>This doesn’t mean Congress should throw open its doors to just anyone, which would undoubtedly draw security concerns and create space issues. However, with its own rules for membership, the Online Media Gallery would allow citizen journalists who cover Congress to at least have a fair shot at securing credentials.
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>In addition, the new Online Media Gallery would alleviate the problem that exists with access to lawmakers. Currently, bloggers seeking to gain access to events in the U.S. Capitol must secure approval from a congressional office, letting staffers control the credentialing process and creating the potential to discriminate against certain bloggers whom members would like to exclude.

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