Missouri News Horizon denied House press gallery access

Thursday, April 15, 2010 | 6:10 p.m. CDT; updated 1:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 16, 2010

Rebecca Townsend, editor for the News Horizon, said she has contacted the association to set up a meeting to restore House press gallery access, and is hoping to get a response by Friday. An earlier version of this article said she was hoping to have access to the House press gallery by the end of the week.

JEFFERSON CITY — A new nonprofit news media operation based in the state Capitol with a focus on government was denied access to the House press gallery Monday.

Missouri News Horizon seeks to provide an investigative eye to state-level news, said Don Hicks, CEO of the Missouri Broadcasters Association and one of the founders of News Horizon. The organization has not disclosed its funding because its donor requested anonymity, Hicks said.

House rules state that the House speaker determines who has access to the press gallery, House spokesman Trevor Fox said. House Speaker Ron Richard issued a policy this session that requires news media to be a member of the Missouri Capitol News Association to utilize the House press gallery.

"He wanted a policy so that it wasn't him just picking and choosing who gets access," Fox said.

Fox and Adam Crumbliss, chief clerk of the House, devised a policy after checking the policies of other states. Although News Horizon has had access to the press gallery all session, the policy was just enforced this week, Fox said. He added that the group has never been granted access to the state Senate.

News Horizon is not on the Missouri Capitol News Association’s membership list, said Phill Brooks, director of the MU School of Journalism’s state government reporting program. Brooks is also the editor at the Missourian's Jefferson City bureau.

Rebecca Townsend, editor for News Horizon, said she has contacted the association to set up a meeting to restore House press gallery access, and is hoping to get a response by Friday.*

To meet the criteria for membership of the association, an applicant must exist as a news organization for six months, remain independent, practice journalism and provide news coverage to a significant audience, Brooks said.

Fox said the House policy applies to the press gallery in general and was not meant to single out specific organizations. Although there have not been issues in the past regarding what is considered a legitimate media outlet, the topic is becoming more prevalent.

“As more and more other forms of media have sought access, we had to come up with a policy,” Fox said. “Should everyone be granted access? Maybe down the line that’s the case, but not for now.”

A few weeks ago, a group called Show Me Progress was also denied access to the House press gallery. Show Me Progress is a blog that bills itself as “Missouri’s progressive politics community” on its Web site.

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