Much as the “critical thinkers” in the Twitterverse want to make it, the City of Hamilton’s new proposed media policy is not a targeted attempt to silence local independent journalist Joey Coleman, or any the other independent journalists in Hamilton, like yours truly for instance.
Coleman and every other reporter can still attend council or watch it online. They will have access to agendas and reports (although God bless anybody trying to retrieve archived material on the city website—better to use Google). Reporters can still direct questions to those councillors and staff where the reporter has developed a relationship. Staff say they will attempt to facilitate responses to any other media questions, with the appropriate staff. They have acknowledged that reporters don’t want to work through a PR filter.
It should also be noted that every news outlet in the city, including Coleman, was consulted as the policy was being developed. The contentious part of the policy, is the part that asks journalists to be a member of a recognized news organization like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council or the National News Media Council. The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Community News, CHML and CHCH are currently members of one of these organizations. The reason for asking participants to belong to such organizations is that they all have codes of ethics covering journalistic standards and practices. With those codes of ethics comes a mechanism to investigate violations of journalistic practice. These codes include such things as fairness and accuracy. Simple things like if you are going to allege something nasty about somebody you give them a chance to respond. If you report something incorrectly you fix it promptly when it is brought to your attention. Also, and this is the tough one for a lot of journalists, you avoid associations and behaviors’ that might bring your objectivity into question. As an aside, I have a problem with journalists who write “straight” journalism on their news outlet and engage in all kinds of unrestricted editorializing on social media. Call me old-fashioned but I believe if you are holding yourself out as a journalist, you lose the ability to be unrestrained on social media.
It’s not a perfect policy. The issue that triggered the discussion about journalists joining professional organizations stemmed from the fact that the city is installing a media room complete with a live streaming studio for use by the media. That means journalists will be able to cover press conferences and announcements either in person or remotely. They will be able to ask questions remotely as well. That represents a service improvement. The plan is to have this facility available for media all day and after hours as well. That means the need for key cards and passes so journalists can access the facility when nobody is around. That created for staff the difficulty of deciding who should have that access. Staff told the Bay Observer that they did not want to be in the position of deciding who is a “real” journalist (precisely what they are now being accused of by people who don’t know what they are talking about) ) and introduced the professional association concept. I consulted with the former president of the Queen’s Park Press Gallery who says the only way this can really work is for the news media to organize themselves into a press gallery and make these critical decisions about whose in or out and policing bad actors, but there is apparently no appetite for that with local media. Meanwhile, the city has informed this publication, and presumably anybody else who bothered to ask, that the city will be making available a digital only access pass that will provide journalists with access to press conferences in the new media facility (livestreamed) while not requiring a User Agreement or association membership, with any associated costs, annual fees, or insurance. So now the only limitation on a journalist who still does not want to join a professional organization is having after hour key cards and physically sitting in the media room and asking questions on the livestream, although they are free to question interviewees offline. Speaking as an independent journalist, I can live with that.
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