The Uptake does real journalism – in video, with lots of volunteers and on a low budget – and it has fought for the right of non-traditional journalists to report from and on the state legislature. After leading a successful push for access last year, over the objections of some legislators from both parties, The Uptake now faces a new challenge from media colleagues.
The Uptake has earned its reputation for hard-working reporting. It filmed live and all over the place at the Republican National Convention in 2008. It was the only media outlet to tape and broadcast the entire 2008 Senate recount. The Uptake is at the legislature, reporting on what’s going on every day. And it covers news that nobody else is covering in depth – such as long-form interviews with each of the candidates for St. Paul Police Chief.
Despite its accomplishments, The Uptake is under fire again from other media outlets that want it out of the legislature. A year ago, the challenge came from legislators (on both sides of the aisle) who wanted to keep audio and videotape reporters from citizen journalism outfits (like The Uptake) out of committee hearings. The legislators proposed such stringent regulations that mainstream media objected, and the whole thing blew over. The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists expressed concern “about the rules that continue to try to narrow the definition of what a journalist is and who should be allowed to document the workings of state government:”
It’s difficult to understand why the proposed rules place conditions on what should be a simple process of access. SPJ prefers to define ‘journalist’ in the broadest of terms and we believe it’s time for the legislature to do the same. The public loses whenever elected officials choose to exclude people who wish to document what happens in a public meeting, working on public policy in a public space. If there is an issue of decorum, safety or logistical space, elected leaders have appropriate methods in place. Rather than create additional rules that imply a person’s credentials will be issued based on where a person works or how long a person will be reporting at the Capitol, SPJ would encourage legislative leaders to lessen the rules to allow more people to report in new and innovative ways to reach more of the public. The Legislature should establish equitable rules for all media, with no bias awarded anyone based on medium, method or viewpoint. If this proposal reflects the Legislature’s attempt to do that, they have missed the mark.
That was then – this is now. Now two mainstream media outlets – the Rochester Post-Bulletin and TPT – object to The Uptake renting space in the press room at the capitol.
Post-Bulletin editor Jay Furst, writes:
We’ve raised legitimate questions about the presence of an organization generally perceived as more political than journalistic in nature (left-leaning) claiming what little media office space is available in the Capitol. … This is a debate we’re happy to have, and if the Capitol administration says the Uptake’s OK, fine. But the Post-Bulletin has been a legitimate, credible news organization since the days of the Civil War.
The Rochester Post-Bulletin’s objections to partisanship in the press don’t sit very well with Sarah Janacek, a self-described partisan journalist whose politics differ markedly from The Uptake. Such objections probably would have puzzled James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, accustomed as they were to an unabashedly partisan press.
TPT’s objections are a little harder to track. According to MinnPost, Mary LaHammer first tweeted and then deleted comments about TPT’s concerns. I prefer LaHammer’s statement from last year’s dust-up:
This is a building we all pay for and lawmakers we pay for making laws that affect us all. We in press take our responsibility to tell you what is happening very seriously. … There seems to be fear about new and partisan media. True the media landscape is changing and that makes a lot of us fearful too, but fear never leads to good decision making.
As Bob Collins of MPR observed last year:
Of all the problems currently facing the people of the state of Minnesota, being too informed about what the pols are doing at the Capitol isn’t one of them.