I barely know Kirk Ross. In fact I barely know any of the people who post entries here at BlueNC. We are a virtual community tied loosely together only by an interest in North Carolina politics. In fact, when I talked to Kirk in December about how BlueNC could upgrade the quality of its content with more original reporting, I had to pump him for information so I could introduce him to our readers. This is what I wrote on New Year's Day:
Kirk has been hanging around BlueNC as “kmr” for a good long while. You haven’t seen him post much, but that’s not because he’s a slacker. Kirk is a prolific freelance writer and has other blogs, including Exile on Jones Street. When forced to account for himself last year, Kirk wrote this:
. . . a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public policy enthusiast. Before striking out on his own, he served as Managing Editor and online development manager for the Independent Weekly. Prior to that he was a reporter for the Chapel Hill News covering government, higher education, politics and schools. He won the North Carolina Press Associations’ top investigative reporting award in 2002 for his work on post 9/11 immigration and labor issues.
Kirk will surely have lots to say about lots of issues, but the thing I’m most jazzed about is his coverage of state government. He knows the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of the North Carolina legislature as well as anyone – and has promised to keep a close eye on the 2007 session.
Please join me in welcoming Kirk Ross into the BlueNC barrel!
So imagine my surprise yesterday to discover that the North Carolina Capital Press Corps took it upon itself to decide that Mr. Kirk Ross is not worth of being credentialed by their lofty organization. Kirk broke the news here, and Ed Cone picked up the conversation here, where even Stagemanager Hood has weighed in with extended commentary. Mr. Hood's analysis is excellent.
As Kirk and John Hood have both argued, credentialing is of only limited value. That shifts the issue from one of practical considerations to one with much broader policy and philosophical implications. So let's examine them - starting with the Capital Press website.
N.C. Capital Press Corps
The N.C. Capital Press Corps is an informal organization for affiliated reporters and photographers covering state government in Raleigh. Its primary functions are to issue credentials and working space to journalists working in the N.C. Legislative Building, but it is also a group whose members share strong social and professional bonds. We are here to help fellow journalists get the basic access and space they need to cover the state legislature.
The N.C. Capital Press Corps issues two kinds of credentials to working reporters and photographers: Permanent and temporary. The credentials are used to gain access to the press galleries in the House and Senate chambers and have no other purpose.
Permanent credentials are issued by the Press Corps to reporters and photographers who are stationed in Raleigh and cover the N.C. General Assembly as their primary beat. Temporary credentials are issued to visiting reporters and photographers who require access to the press galleries. Temporary credentials are good only on the day issued.
Because we have invited Kirk Ross to post his stories here at BlueNC, the Capital Press has determined him unworthy of credentials that could help him be more effective, if only marginally, in his work - work he has been doing for decades. I find that decision unconscionable and grounded in a grossly distorted view of emerging new media.
. . . declining your request for legislative press credentials after consultation with other members for the Capital Press Corps. Although I found you to be otherwise qualified for credentials, some of your online work is syndicated through BlueNC.Com, a website that promotes Democratic and progressive causes. It is my belief that this affiliation constitutes political advocacy, or at the very least the appearance of political advocacy.
It has been the long standing practice of the press corps not to credential those people whose work can be seen in part or whole as serving a political or ideological cause. Although we are adjusting to the brave new world of new media along with everyone else, this is a long-standing position to which I'm obliged to defer.
BlueNC will be putting this long-standing position to the test over the next few weeks, taking up the suggestion made by Roch101 in the discussion on Ed Cone's blog.
Accepting the label of "advocacy site" for the sake of argument, Ed makes an important point. The distribution of media has changed and continues to evolve. I'll continue to use Mark Binker as a convenient example, nothing personal as this could apply to a number of people. Mark writes a blog. The content of that blog is easily available for syndication through an RSS feed. If BlueNC started featuring posts from Mark's blog, would that disqualify Mark from keeping his press credentials?
This would be an interesting little test, if BlueNC is up to it. Create a section on BlueNC where all available reports from Capital reporters are featured. That would put them in the same boat as Kirk (or Kirk in the same boat as them, depending on how the press corps decides to look at it.)
Some closing thoughts.
First, in John Hood's commentary at Ed's site, he describes the Carolina Journal's past experience with the credentialing process, and likens it to what is happening here. In my opinion, the two situations are dramatically different. Kirk Ross is not an employee or contractor of BlueNC in any way, shape or form. He is not obliged to do anything on behalf of the BlueNC community, nor is he restricted in any way from doing anything else he wants. In fact, he has recently started yet another venture, a new citizen journalism blog and aggregator for Carrboro & surrounding environs . . . you can find it here. Kirk Ross is an independent journalist who has simply been invited to post whatever he wants to write on the front-page of BlueNC.
Second, and this is important, there are no formal actions BlueNC can or will take related to this matter. I'm pissed that a guy who does great reporting is not getting a fair shake from the powers-that-be in the mainstream media, but that's Kirk's problem. He doesn't work for BlueNC and BlueNC has no standing in the matter.
Third, I want to be clear that I am not slamming any individual, and certainly not Mark Binker. It sounds like he's done a good job getting input and trying to make a thoughtful decision. This is way bigger than Mark - and Kirk. It's not about them.
Finally, as I wrote above, I barely know Kirk Ross, but what I do know about him leads me to believe he is not all that thrilled about being in this spotlight. Sorry, Kirk.