It looks like in the wake of House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s 23-count indictment efforts to block unfavorable press from access to the state’s legislature have stepped up.
Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter – an online publication covering, as its name would suggest, Alabama Politics — is claiming efforts are being made by the Republican Caucus running the legislature to block journalistic endeavors such as his from having access to press boxes in the Alabama House and Senate.
“Since 2013, certain members of the Republican controlled House and Senate have tried to limit press access to only a chosen few. It is not because there are hundreds of journalists trying to huddle into the boxes that line the back of the House and Senate chambers. No. It is because they do not want anyone reporting the whole truth about what occurs, not only on the floor of these institutions, but what goes on behind the scenes,” Britt wrote recently. “More specifically, some in the Republican supermajority, controlled by Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, have worked overtly and covertly to destroy the Alabama Political Reporter and its ability to report the facts about their crimes and misdealings.”
Britt claims he has been told in private by both members of the House and Senate that Republican leaders wanted to muzzle his publication.
He claims this plan was “fathered by Speaker Hubbard” and aims for the Senate to define who is a journalist and what is a legitimate news organization. Britt says “bloggers” or online publications such as his will be shut out in favor of traditional print and broadcast organizations.
Such a move would seem completely counter to the way things have been going for the past decade in the news business. While many traditional publications and broadcasters have found financial trouble and reduced their coverage, bloggers and online-only publications have risen up to help fill the gap.
Are all of them quality journalism? No. Have all newspapers and TV stations presented quality journalism? No.
While I can understand the issues created by a lone blogger who now has the ability to project his opinions and ideas across the Worldwide Web – The Legal Schnauzer is a fine example – government should understand that the licensing or vetting of news media flies in the face of the constitution and the very founding of this country. As Britt points out in his article, many of the most revered rabble-rousers as this country fought for independence might have been the very types who blog today.
But Alabama has been doing this type of thing for some time. Bloggers and online publications are not the only ones discriminated against in our fair state. Free publications like this one have also been relegated to the journalistic back seat essentially because someone decided subscription-based newspapers are somehow more legitimate.
While this hasn’t gotten us locked out of coverage, it has been used to hinder Lagniappe’s growth. Specifically I’m talking about blocking the ability of a free newspaper to take legal advertising.
Somewhere along the way media moguls across the land came up with a law that exists in many states, requiring any publication that runs legal ads — public notices and other ads required to be publicly posted — to have a Second Class Postal Permit.
That permit is now called Publications Class, but its restrictions are still the same. Designed to allow certain publications to mail at a reduced rate, it requires that more than 50 percent of the readers be paid subscribers.
How that affects the quality of the publication or the news it reports is beyond logic, but it does effectively block a newspaper like Lagniappe from competing for this business with papers like the Press-Register. Even though numerous agencies have requested that we begin taking these types of ads, Lagniappe is still locked out because of a postal permit.
It goes even further in that the Alabama Press Association won’t allow this newspaper and others like it to compete in its annual “Better Newspapers Contest,” simply because we don’t have the postal permit. In other words, in Alabama the Post Office decides what is and isn’t a newspaper.
I think it’s fair to say Lagniappe has consistently provided this community with far more and better quality investigative reporting than some of the other news organizations, but to the Press Association, we should still be lumped in with church fliers.
It’s understandable why Britt should be concerned about being locked out. This state has a history of doing just that. Hopefully the people running the state legislature can realize times have changed and do away with legislation and actions that hinder the effectiveness and growth of those who would provide information to the citizens.
Shaking it up at al.com
There were some beat changes at the Press-Register/al.com last week. (I’m still trying to figure out what they prefer to be called.)
Insiders tell me some reporters were moved to cover new areas for the company. John Sharp, who had been covering Mobile City Hall was moved to Baldwin County coverage and replaced in Government Plaza by Kelli Dugan.
Michael Dumas is now a general assignment reporter and will also be writing “Mike About Town” posts. Thyrie Bland has been moved to court coverage. No word on whether that affected Brendan Kirby, who has covered courts for some time.
Mike Finch is now the only business reporter, according to my source.
The publication’s “entertainment team” consists of David Holloway (food), Tamara Ikenberg (movies, theater, fine arts), Lawrence Specker (music) and Michelle Roberts Matthews (homes, weddings and family).
No word yet on other changes.
“Some of us are scratching our heads,” a source said.
Among al.com reporters the move to the company’s new building on Royal Street has been roundly greeted with approval. Multiple employees have said they enjoy the new atmosphere and bustle of downtown. Some also were happy to have gotten away from the old building on Water Street.
“I love it. No more ghosts! And it’s so nice being right in the middle of things,” one insider said.