Iowa journalists form new group, with politicians as gatekeepers

After months of planning, journalists announced the creation of the Iowa Capitol Press Association on November 30. The group’s mission “is to support robust coverage of Iowa state government for the benefit of the public and to promote policies that encourage transparency and access” as well as safe working conditions for reporters.

Association president Erin Murphy of Lee Newspapers said in a news release, “Our members have enjoyed a respectful working relationship with our leaders in state government. We look forward to working with them to foster a climate of transparency and accountability, for the benefit of the people of Iowa.”

For now, Republican legislative leaders and their partisan appointees will have the final say on who can participate in the association.

Speaking to Jeff Stein of KXEL Radio on December 1, Murphy said statehouse reporters had talked periodically for years about creating a formal organization that could “advocate with one united voice.” They’ve been meeting regularly since this summer to plan the rollout.

Murphy described the concept as similar to the White House Correspondents’ Association, “but for the Iowa capitol. We’re just a group of journalists that cover the capitol, cover the governor’s office, the Iowa legislature, state agencies, cover state government in general for our respective media outlets.”

Under the association’s bylaws, “Membership is available to any journalist who is credentialed to cover the Iowa Legislature.”

The House chief clerk and secretary of the Senate have authority to issue credentials, and the House speaker and Senate majority leader influence each chamber’s decisions on media access.

As I’ve learned firsthand, writing hundreds of in-depth articles about state government and the legislature is no guarantee Republicans will approve your application for credentials, even if you meet all the conditions of each chamber’s media access policy.

Murphy told Stein that reaction to the group’s formation “has been mostly positive,” but he acknowledged “concerns from some corners about membership.”

One of the first issues we’re going to have to discuss is membership. And specifically, it’s a new media world, and there are media outlets there, that are–you know, whatever term you want to label them, bloggers, the online-only type outlets, and some of them are partisan leaning.

Worth noting: the press association’s vice president is Kathie Obradovich, editor-in-chief of Iowa Capital Dispatch. That news organization is the opposite of legacy media. It’s less than a year old and publishes exclusively online.

The Iowa legislature has never consistently blocked access to all who express political opinions. While most on the credentials list would be considered straight news reporters, many commentators have been credentialed, including Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican website and Obradovich when she was the Des Moines Register’s political columnist.

Anyway, a mountain of case law supports the idea that bloggers “are entitled to the same protections that the legal system affords ‘traditional’ journalists,” and that “Denying press credentials on grounds that a journalist is a blogger is deeply at odds with the First Amendment.”

“Partisan leaning” websites that have extensively covered the legislature in recent years include not only Bleeding Heartland but also Iowa Starting Line (from a Democratic viewpoint) and Caffeinated Thoughts and The Iowa Standard (on the Republican side).

Murphy told me on November 30 and repeated in his KXEL interview that the press association plans to revisit the membership question. He told Stein the group had discussed the matter months ago but “kicked the can down the road” because “it was kind of bogging us down” and they wanted to get the organization up and running before the legislature reconvenes in January.

Stein observed that he could easily get credentialed by the Iowa legislature. “They send me an email every year. I simply have to return it, and then I get quote-unquote credentialed. I’ve never needed it, because I’m not there on a regular basis.”

How convenient for him. My experience has been different. Jacob Hall of The Iowa Standard has also applied for credentials without success, two years in a row.

I’d love to help advocate for transparency, access, and fair working conditions for reporters providing “robust coverage” of state government. But I won’t be able to join this group unless I get past Republican gatekeepers.

A number of statehouse reporters are sympathetic to my perspective, so I hope that sooner rather than later, the Iowa Capitol Press Association will start acting like the fourth estate and stop letting partisan politicians decide who’s a member of the media.

Changing the policy would require a majority vote to amend the bylaws, which are enclosed below.

_______________

Full text of November 30 news release:

Statehouse journalists form organization to promote transparency, public access

Members of the Iowa Statehouse press corps are announcing the formation of the Iowa Capitol Press Association.

The purpose of the association is to support robust coverage of Iowa state government for the benefit of the public and to promote policies that encourage transparency and access. The association will also advocate for conditions in which press corps members can conduct their work safely and effectively.

The Iowa Capitol Press Association shares many of the same values with similar legislative media associations in more than a dozen states.

Association members have elected the following officers: president Erin Murphy, Lee Enterprises; vice president Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Capital Dispatch; and secretary Katarina Sostaric, Iowa Public Radio.

“I am beyond humbled and honored that my colleagues, for whom I have deep respect, have put their faith in me to lead this fledgling organization, whose mission and goals I believe in deeply,” Murphy said. “Our members have enjoyed a respectful working relationship with our leaders in state government. We look forward to working with them to foster a climate of transparency and accountability, for the benefit of the people of Iowa.”

The Iowa Capitol Press Association’s members include journalists employed by the Associated Press, the Des Moines Register, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, the Gazette, the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Iowa Public Radio, KCCI-TV, Lee Enterprises, Radio Iowa, Sinclair Broadcast Group, WHO-TV and WOI-TV.

Membership in the association is open to any journalist who is credentialed to cover the Iowa Legislature.

Bylaws of the Iowa Capitol Press Association:

1.1 Mission statement

The Iowa Capitol Press Association exists to promote and support robust coverage of Iowa state government for the benefit of the public, and to advocate for policies that encourage transparency, access, and for conditions in which press corps members can conduct their work safely and effectively.

2.1 Membership

Membership is available to any journalist who is credentialed to cover the Iowa Legislature.

3.1 Executive Committee

The Executive Committee shall consist of three members who are journalists credentialed in the Iowa Legislature.

  • President
  • Vice President
  • Secretary
  • The Executive Committee shall not include two or more members employed by the same news organization. The ICPA shall endeavor to elect Executive Committee members who each represent a different medium.

    3.2 Election of Executive Committee Members

    Starting in 2021, ICPA credentialed members will hold an election every two years to fill vacant positions. The executive committee shall set the election in November of odd-numbered years by the Friday before Thanksgiving. Nominations for vacancies are due one week before the election date.

    The presiding officer shall distribute all nominations to all credentialed members at least three days prior to the date set for the election. Officers will be elected by secret ballot. The presiding officer shall determine whether the election will be conducted via paper or digital ballots and the presiding officer will distribute the ballots to the credentialed members.

    The presiding officer shall appoint a credentialed ICPA member who is not a member of the Executive Committee or a candidate to collect the ballots and announce the results to ICPA members.

    3.3 Executive Committee Terms

    Officers holding the office of President, Vice President and Secretary will each hold two-year terms that shall expire the day after the election is held.

    3.4 The line of succession and peaceful transition of power

    In the event of a vacancy on the executive committee, the vice president shall become president, and the secretary shall become vice president. The executive committee shall call an election for secretary to be held as soon as practicable.

    The transition of power shall be conducted peacefully.

    3.5 Executive Committee Duties

    The ICPA president shall be responsible for the following:

    1. Select the date, time and place of ICPA regular meetings.
    2. Select the date, time and place of the ICPA annual meeting.
    3. Provide agendas for regular and annual meetings to ICPA members electronically with as much advance notice as possible.
    4. Serve as the presiding officer of ICPA meetings, guided by parliamentary procedures outlined in Roberts Rules of Order.

    1. Appoint a temporary replacement for the Vice President and/or Secretary if another officer/officers are not present at the annual or regular meetings of the ICPA.

    5. Conduct ICPA elections as outlined in Section 3.2.
    6. Pursue the group’s mission as its primary advocate and consult with and/or notify ICPA membership, when possible, before speaking on behalf of the group.
    7. Maintain the ICPA email account and Twitter account. When posting on social media via the ICPA Twitter account, the president shall use standard social media principles generally followed by nonpartisan journalists. The ICPA email and Twitter accounts shall only be used for ICPA business and to advance the interests of the ICPA.
    8. Appoint a three-member Bylaws Review Committee in October of each odd-numbered year.

    The ICPA Vice President shall be responsible for the following:

    1. Assume the president’s duties in the event the president is temporarily or permanently unable to serve.
    2. Serve as the conservator of the ICPA’s historical records.

    1. Maintain digital copies of each elected slate of officers.
    2. Maintain digital copies of ICPA minutes.

    3. Assist other members of the Executive Committee, when designated and appropriate.

    The ICPA Secretary shall be responsible for the following:

    1. Record and maintain official minutes of all ICPA meetings.

    1. Distribute minutes electronically to ICPA members within 48 hours of a meeting’s conclusion.

    2. Notify ICPA members electronically of ICPA meetings, including the annual meeting, with as much advance notice as possible in each circumstance.
    3. Maintain the list of ICPA members and relevant contact information for the efficient conduct of ICPA business.
    4. In the temporary or permanent absence of the Vice President, assume the duties of that office.
    5. Assist other members of the Executive Committee, when designated and appropriate.

    4.1 Meeting schedule

    1. The full membership of the ICPA shall meet twice each year: once during the legislative session, and once in November before the Friday that precedes Thanksgiving.
    2. The executive committee may also schedule additional meetings of the full membership any time.
    3. Members of the Executive Committee may meet periodically to conduct ICPA business.

    1. The full membership will be notified of Executive Committee meetings and may attend.
    2. The Secretary will provide minutes to the full membership of any Executive Committee meeting.
    3. No Executive Committee meeting shall be held in secret.

    4. At least five members of the ICPA may co-sign a petition directing the Executive Committee to schedule a meeting of the full membership at any time.

    5.1 Bylaws

    1. Changes to the bylaws will be approved by a simple majority of credentialed members. The vote shall be conducted in person or remotely.

    1. The Executive Committee shall allow for a voting period of at least 48 hours.

    2. The president in October of odd numbered years will appoint a Bylaws Review Committee to review the bylaws and recommend any changes at the ICPA annual meeting in November.

    1. The Bylaws Review Committee shall consist of three ICPA members, including at least two members who are not part of the ICPA Executive Committee.

    3. At least five members of the ICPA may co-sign a petition proposing amendments to the bylaws at any time. The ICPA shall then hold a meeting at which changes to the bylaws may be adopted by a simple majority of credentialed members.

    • Unbelievable!

      Next think you know, they’ll be credentialing lobbyists. Might as well go ahead and credential constituents while they’re at it.

    • Just too damn disrespectful

      Well, Laura, if you weren’t so damn disrespectful.

      Is this group going to make its minutes available to the public. It doesn’t look like it, from a quick read.

    • Where's your decoder ring?

      Not sure I understand all of this but it sounds like amateur censorship to me. There’s no certification necessary to be a journalist. The first amendment allows us all to be journalists, even “Podcast By George”. If reporters can pass a basic security check and behave themselves , let ’em all in. If space becomes an issue, implement a periodic lottery system and grant the losers access via zoom. Having to conform or join a group to gain access obviously constrains freedom of expression. Am I missing something?

      • my best guess

        is that the reporters want to advocate for some COVID safety protocols and they feel they have a better chance of getting what they want from Republican leaders if they assure them politicians will retain control over the statehouse press corps.

        Alternatively it’s just an exercise in access journalism.

        • Access Journalism

          You nailed it. I’ve been asked a lot lately how Americans got so dumb. I usually say, “corporate news propaganda.” Now I’m just going to say “access journalism!” 😉

    • For crying out loud...

      …Bleeding Heartland breaks important news stories, as acknowledged in a DM REG column just today. I certainly understand journalists’ concerns about covid risks at the Statehouse, especially given the past behavior of some of the elected officials who are in charge now. But this proposed ICPA membership arrangement does not look good.

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