"I'm a citizen journalist," Controversy over Bloggers at Seattle Public Schools News Conference

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Melissa Westbrook is the Seattle blogger who was told she couldn't ask questions of school officials at a Sept. school board meeting. See a detail of a screenshot of Westbrook at a March school board of directors meeting. (Credit: YouTube, "auntybroad")

The controversy started after Melissa Westbrook, who “has blogged about Seattle Public Schools for more than a decade,” was told by a district employee that an upcoming news conference was only for “traditional journalists” and that Westbrook wouldn’t be able to ask questions.

“I’m a citizen journalist,” Seattle PI reported that Westbrook said. “A lot of people think (the blog is) always critical. My children would not have gone to public school if I didn’t believe in my district.”

Westbrook called for the district to explain who can ask questions at these media events.  “They need to have in writing what is their policy,” Seattle PI quoted her as saying.

According to Seattle PI’s Sept 17 blog, Westbrook blogged about being told she couldn’t ask questions at the news conference and “several local news sites, including Publicola.com and the Stranger’s Slog,” picked up her story.

But, the school district seems to have reversed this ban of bloggers.

“Our practice is to include bloggers in news releases and media roundtables, and now in press conferences,” district spokeswoman Patti Spencer said, according to Seattle PI.

However, Seattle PI also noted that that Seattle, WA newspaper The Stranger reported in a blog post contrary, and that the district labeled Westbrook’s blog not journalism.

The Stranger had reported that district spokesperson Teresa Wippel said the news conference was only for media organizations that “provide unbiased coverage and subscribe to journalistic ethics,” and follow “the types of practices outlined in the Code of Ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists,” Wippel is quoted as saying. “It is our opinion that Ms. Westbrook’s blog does not fit into that category.”

Wippel defined The Stranger as a news organization which also offers opinion.  (Mondo Times identifies the Stranger as a weekly newspaper with a circulation of more than 90,000.)

Meanwhile, Westbrook says the school district said she isn’t a “real journalist” and she more often writes commentary than straight reporting.  Westbrook blogged about being labeled not a “real journalist” Sept 15 here.

Seattle PI further reported that the Society of Professional Journalists’ local chapter advised on the benefits of allowing any journalist – traditional or new media – to report.

“All journalists, whether they work for traditional news organizations or report independently online, are essential to an informed society,” Seattle PI reported Clay Holtzman, president of SPJ’s western Washington Pro chapter said in a prepared statement.

“There is no benefit when media — in any of its forms — is restricted from accessing public information and public officials. The Society of Professional Journalists recognizes the value that citizen journalists provide, and we encourage others to also recognize them as a legitimate component of the new media landscape.”

Seattle PI noted that Westbrook did say she asked school officials questions at the end of the news conference.  “But since she was the only one in attendance except for a few TV crews, no official question-and-answer session was held.”

iMediaEthics has written to Seattle Public Schools district spokesperson Teresa Wippel and will update with any response.

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“I’m a citizen journalist,” Controversy over Bloggers at Seattle Public Schools News Conference

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