The NYPD Press Credentialing Process Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Notes on the NYPD Press Credentialing Process, from the (Ineligible) Editor-in-Chief of the New York Observer (New York Observer):
In a note responding to an earlier post from The Awl detailing the various media organization associations of 26 reporters arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, Bloomberg spokesperson Stu Loeser tried to dismiss any accusations that the arrests were improper by noting that only five of the reporters arrested had valid NYPD press credentials. He then went on to Tweet at ObserverNews Editor Megan McCarthy:@megan, you don’t have a press pass; that’s your option. But why should some random NYPD take your word that you’re press?

Aside from the question of whether credentialing by law enforcement is appropriate in the first place (inasmuch as it can potentially conflict with first amendment protections), the NYPD’s processes for acquiring credentials are, to put it nicely, Kafkaesque. To put it bluntly: they’re ridiculous.

Visit the “press eligibility” page of New York Finest and you’ll find the following requirements:

First-time applicants should contact the Press Credentials office (above) before completing their application.

Applicants must be a member of the media who covers, in person, emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or covers, in person, events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.

Applicants also must submit one or more articles, commentaries, books, photographs, videos, films or audios published or broadcast within the twenty–four (24) months immediately preceding the Press Card application, sufficient to show that the applicant covered in person six (6) or more events occurring on separate days.

According to the last paragraph, you have to demonstrate coverage as an uncredentialed reporter in order to get credentialed. So the only way to comply with the law is to have previously broken the law repeatedly.

Who’s A Journalist? – October 7, 2011 (Columbia Journalism Review):
John Farley, a reporter with WNET/Thirteen’s MetroFocus, was standing on the sidewalk interviewing two women who had been pepper sprayed during the Occupy Wall Street protest when it happened to him.For Natasha Lennard, a freelancer for The New York Times’s City Blog, it happened as she live-tweeted events while walking alongside the crowd of protestors “taking” the Brooklyn Bridge.

And for Alternet freelancer Kristen Gwynne, who was among the bridge crowd, it happened while she was talking with protest participants.

Swept up by the NYPD along with Occupy Wall Street protesters, these journalists were kettled, cuffed, and bussed to a police station on where they were charged with disorderly conduct. Farley spent eight hours in jail on September 24; Lennard—who had Times editors working to free her—was in custody for five hours, and Gwynne for twice that long, on October 1.

It seems journalists themselves aren’t the only ones struggling to determine who, exactly, is a journalist. The three reporters are among the hundreds of individuals who have been arrested at the Occupy Wall Street protests in recent weeks. Each was there to cover the event, yet all three were treated in a manner that police tend to avoid with working journalists.

Why did this happen? Part of the answer is simply a byproduct of the everyone’s-a-journalist rhetoric that defines our media these days.

The more proximate answer, though, has to do with how the NYPD has decided to determine who is a journalist. Simply put, without a press credential issued by the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI), you are not a journalist in the eyes of the police.

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