muckraker report

State lawmakers try to narrowly define who’s a journalist

Newspaper guyWho’s a journalist?

According to a bill before the state House, it’s solely someone who works for a newspaper or FCC-licensed radio or TV station.

If passed, reporters who write strictly for on-line news organizations, such as Deadline Detroit, MLive and Huffington Post, would be denied access to some police records. In this case, the records involve car accidents.

Critics worry the narrow definition will wend its way into future bills aimed at restricting access to records – a move that undermines independent, on-line journalism.

Even reputable wire services, such as the Associated Press and Reuters, would be barred access under House Bill No. 4770.

On Thursday morning, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the bill.

“That is a far too narrow definition of news media in the 21st century,” said Jane Briggs Bunting, of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government. “Journalism comes in a variety of different delivery forms. Some individual bloggers have more followers than the circulation of many newspapers in this state or audiences of radio and television news stations.”

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods. The committee chairman is Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.

Contact them by clicking on their names above.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • EBounding

    Why is this law even necessary? What prompted them to introduce it?

    • muckraker_steve

      They won’t to keep attorneys and private investigators from the records, saying the information about accidents should be private.

  • Eric

    Car accidents??

  • Eclectablog

    Since the definition of “newspaper” in the bill includes the word “newspaper”, it’s impossible to know exactly what it means. You can’t use the word you are defining in the definition of that word. However, it does include publishing on the internet so I don’t see how this would exclude online news sites like the ones you listed. Here’s the full definition:

    “Newspaper” includes a newspaper of general circulation that is published at least once a week, includes stories of general interest to the public, is used primarily for the dissemination of news, and may be published in hard copy form or on the internet. Newspaper does not include a publication with the primary purpose of distributing advertising or with the primary purpose of publishing names and other personal identifying information regarding parties to a motor vehicle accident.

    Why wouldn’t that include an online news source? I think your analysis of this is incorrect.

    • Brainwrap

      In addition, Ellen Cogen Lipton happens to be the same state Rep who was FINALLY able to force the EAA and MI Dept. of Ed. to turn over hundreds of documents revealing the disturbing truth behind the EAA’s “effectiveness”…by using multiple FOIA requests, which she also had to pay for (upwards of $2,000).

      I’d be willing to give her an awful lot of slack on FOIA-related policy issues. Not saying she’s in the right here, but I’d hear her out first.

    • muckraker_steve

      You are reading the newest version. She added that AFTER the story ran. MLive and others talked to her.

      • Eclectablog

        I’m reading the House Introduced Bill. As stated on the website, “Introduced bills appear as they were introduced and reflect no subsequent amendments or changes.” If she changed it to add “or on the internet”, that happened before it was introduced to the House. The H-2 amendment didn’t happen until yesterday and changes the term “newspaper” to “news publication”. Seems to me you need to update this piece since it’s being circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter.

  • lighthousejustice

    “Congress shall make no law …
    prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
    speech, or of the press … “

  • Tracey

    Glad to see the lawmakers in Lansing are concentrating on the really pressing issues like silencing free speech instead of petty things like our economy, infrastructure, crime, or providing assistance to the state’s working poor.