How Does WMATA Define “Media”?
WMATA’s website says “Metro’s Media Relations Office is the official point of contact for reporters and members of the news media as they interact with Metro”. But how do you define “reporter” or “members of the news media”? Are bloggers “reporters”?
I put a lot of effort into what you see here on my website as well as making every attempt to be factual and not misleading in my tweeting. You may call that reporting. If you follow the work of @unsuckdcmetro over on his blog you’d be hard pressed to deny his work as “reporting”. He puts a lot of work into his blog posts and takes great strides to protect the identity of his sources when asked to. You may call that reporting.
Even though I’m not usually on friendly terms with most of the folks over at GreaterGreaterWashington.com (@GGWash) and specifically their founder - @Alpert - I do consider what they do there as “reporting” even though they aren’t in print and aren’t a radio or TV broadcast program. They do gather a story using a team of professionals and present it for a large group of people to read. You may call that reporting.
When any of us go to a WMATA board meeting, RAC meeting, etc we have to go as “the public” - we don’t get media access.
Earlier this year one of the GGWash “reporters”, Michael Perkins, went through the proper procedures to get information from WMATA - called a PARP (Public Access to Records Policy). They were told by WMATA that as a blog they are not “media”. Here’s the full reply:
Pursuant to federal regulations, a representative of the news media is any person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. 28 C.F.R. § 16.11 (b)(6) (2012). Examples include television and radio stations broadcasting to the general public, publishers of periodicals that disseminate news to the general public, and freelance journalists who can demonstrate a solid basis of publication through a news organization.
OK. So Greater Greater Washington is a blog. Not news media. Got it.
Flash forward to this week. On October 9th WMATA sent out a media advisory inviting the media to attend an event today, October 10th, where the new 7000 series mock-up would be presented. The email read as:
IMPORTANT: This event will take place at a non-public Metro facility. Members of the media interested in covering the event should RSVP by calling Metro’s Office of Media Relations at (202) 962-1051.
Members of the public were not invited - and from what I could gather on Twitter not ALLOWED - to attend this event. There was no public invitation made at all.
Then today GGWash writer Matt Johnson came out with an article on the new 7000 series mock-up. Apparently Mr. Johnson attended the media event today… as a reporter.
So. Now Greater Greater Washington IS “media”.
Furthermore - I went to an event on September 20th where WMATA GM Sarles was having a meet-and-greet with riders at the Rosslyn Metro Station. I went as a rider to ask Mr Sarles some questions. Because sometimes words get twisted around I wanted to make sure I recorded the conversation. After asking Mr. Sarles if this was OK he motioned for his media representative, Philip Stewart, to come over.
I was told, as you can hear in the audio recording: “We’ll give you as much time as Channel 9 - how about that?”.
I watched patiently as rider after rider came up to Mr Sarles before me and never once was any other rider given a time frame for the discussion and specifically none were given “equal access” as news reporters before them had.
Based on that I’m a “reporter”? It’s a little gray area to say the least.
Why does all of this matter?
1) Because WMATA took a quasi legal stand against Michael Perkins and went out of their way to define blogs as not being “media”. A stand which likely cost Mr. Perkins money.
2) Because if blogs ARE “media” now we (I include myself as a “blog”), including @unsuckdcmetro, Greater Greater Washington, etc should be given access to the same media resources as NBC 4, WUSA 9, etc. If we PARP we shouldn’t have to pay. If an event happens we should be given access to the media line to follow the developments. If we ask a question of the media relations department we should be given the same respect as The Post.
3) As a public agency WMATA needs to be careful about setting double-standards. While it might be nice to define someone as a “reporter” for a publicity event you can’t define them as a “blog” when they come back and ask for information.
I’ve asked @WMATA (via Twitter) for clarification on all of this. If/when I get a reply I’ll update this blog. Yes. Blog.