Blogger’s journalistic credentials questioned

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(Host) The Governor’s weekly press conference is a long standing tradition.

It’s a chance for reporters to question the chief executive for details about his politics and policies.

Recently, though, questions have been raised about the questioners.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Something unusual happened last week at the Governor Jim Douglas’ weekly press conference. An online blogger asked a question.

(Douglas) “Well, I’m happy to answer. This is for the press, of course “

(Zind) The blogger is Adam Quinn. It wasn’t Quinn’s question that drew the disapproval of Jason Gibbs, the Governor’s Press Secretary, but the fact that he asked one at all. According to Quinn, press secretary Gibbs had told him earlier that that he could come to the press conferences, but he couldn’t ask a question.

(Quinn) “…and I said, that’s fine, do you have rules or guidelines or anything else that should direct me to whether I’m eligible or not. And they said no we don’t.”

(Zind) They do now. Gibbs says this is the first time the administration has had to consider who should be able to ask questions at the Governor’s weekly press conference. After doing some research, including consulting his counterparts in other states, Gibbs decided the privilege is limited to journalists, which means

(Gibbs) “Bona fide working journalists who have a responsibility to report the news for a broadcast or print medium whose business it is to disseminate the news on a somewhat regular basis.”

(Zind) Gibbs says as a blogger with no affiliation with a recognized news outlet, Quinn doesn’t meet the criteria.

Quinn’s blog is called Vermonters First dot org. His sympathies are decidedly Democratic and Progressive. Quinn’s blog carries a good deal of criticism of Republicans and of Douglas. Gibbs says Quinn’s partisanship is another reason he’s not welcome to ask questions at the press conferences.

(Gibbs) “If your intent is to do nothing but disrupt the press conference by way of asking unnecessary questions, its really not a constructive use of that time.”

(Zind) Quinn says he’s not trying to be disruptive. He just wants to bring a different prespective to the press

(Quinn) “Maybe people should ask some different questions, or questions in different ways.”

(Zind) Jason Gibbs says the newly articulated policy has changed the status of one person who’s been participating in press conferences since Howard Dean was Governor. James Dwinell puts out an online newsletter called the Dwinell Political Report. The newsletter favors Republican policies.

Gibbs says Dwinell has agreed not to participate in press conferences until he is a contributor to a regular news outlet. Dwinell says he’s taken steps to meet the Governor’s criteria, but he says he shouldn’t have to. He says work like his plays an important role in public discourse about the issues.

(Dwinell) “I have a different and interesting take on a lot of different subjects and because of how I operate have access to a lot of different people across the state and come up with different perspectives and different ideas that are often incubated in the Dwinell Political Report and then picked up by the mainstream media.”

(Zind) Dwinell says he’s attended many press conferences and asked questions of many politicians and his ability to do so has never been an issue.

Although both Dwinell and Quinn have worked in politics in the past, Dwinell makes a distinction between his online report and Quinn’s blog. For one thing Quinn includes links to the websites of candidates he favors and even offers an easy way to donate to their campaigns. Quinn responds that Dwinell’s site has links to conservative writers and commentators.

Dwinell says the decision about who’s a journalist and who’s not should be up to journalists themselves not the politicians

(Dwinell) “Most places have a credentialing process and it’s not run by the Governor’s office or by a political office but by the peers.”

(Zind) Adam Quinn says it’s likely the question of what constitutes a journalist will have to be revisited in the future as blogs evolve. Press Secretary Jason Gibbs agrees.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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