At the same time, Bekker says, the NYPD’s process is fair. “It’s not a high hurdle,” he says, noting that they just want proof the reporter has a history and a need to cover events involving police and fire lines in the future. He also questioned the circumstances under which the journalists at Occupy Wall Street were arrested. “Are these people marching with the protesters? Or are they covering them?” In Gwynne’s case, at least, that line may not be as clear as it should be.
Gothamist’s Chris Robbins agrees that the “chicken and the egg” issue presented by the requirements for young reporters can be worked around. “If people really want to report stuff, they’ll go down and report it whether or not they have a press pass,” he says, suggesting that with some hustle and hard work, a reporter can cover breaking news in the city without the credential. To him, the problem with the system is not that the requirements are unfair, but that the process takes so long.
While he waits on DCPI, Robbins has been covering Occupy Wall Street without credentials, and despite the arrests thinks he can continue to do so without trouble. He wants the credentials because, he says, “they just help” to have on the job. Robbins notes that the DCPI credential works as a sort of EZ Pass for reporters to get into press conferences, where seats are limited, and eases things at crime scenes. Otherwise, he says, reporters face the “ordeal of having to explain to someone that you’re press and fumbling for your business card, and the officers kind of looking at you skeptically.”
Lennard also says that she now wants the DCPI credentials, and that her arrest last weekend has made her reconsider the risks involved in reporting on events in the city.
I think if organizations can’t get their reporters, or even their stringers, appropriately credentialed to do their job then they shouldn’t be sending them out. I don’t think that’s been a problem as much until now, but as it becomes obvious that big marches and police presence in New York will—and does—become confrontational that seems to be enough to take the precaution.
Whether or not the police should be in the business of credentialing the press, and regulating who gets to cover what, is a longstanding debate. For now, journalists like Lennard seem willing to cede that ground so long as they’re allowed to do their job.
But the NYCLU’s Chris Dunn urges caution: “I think most people would agree there are certain types of events in which press credentialing is appropriate, but that’s a pretty small pool of events. The DCPI pass has become the uniformly accepted press credential and that puts the police in the middle of legitimizing reporters which they should not be doing.”