For the first time, Republican presidential nominating convention organizers are poised to charge print journalists for a seat in the convention hall.
GOP convention organizers are proposing charging news organizations $150 per seat in the writing press stand, which would include a chair, a table and access to electricity. The move has the press' representatives up in arms, arguing it makes convention coverage a "pay-to-play" scenario. The print media galleries issued a joint statement Monday condemning the proposal.
"We are concerned that the proposed fee smacks of forcing the press to pay for news gathering," said Heather Rothman, chairwoman of the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents, and Jonathan Salant, who chairs the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Daily Press. "We urge the [Republican National Committee] to follow the precedent of previous conventions of both parties and drop plans for an access fee so the press can continue to inform the public about a major news event."
The statement comes slightly more than a week after representatives from each of the four congressional press galleries attended an hour-long meeting with GOP convention organizers in the Capitol Visitor Center on Oct. 9. (Roll Call Interim Editor Jason Dick is a member of the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents.)
"This disenfranchises the smallest members of our gallery. They’re prohibitive costs," Blooomberg BNA's Rothman told CQ Roll Call after the meeting. "And this pay-to-play completely limits the freedom of the press.”
"There is no access fee," RNC spokeswoman Allison Moore told CQ Roll Call. "For custom built work stations, there will be a minimal charge at a fraction of the actual cost.”
According to members of the press galleries who were in the meeting, the convention organizers explained it will cost around $750 to $800 to remove each seat at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, to make room for the press area and bolt down the press area itself.
According to Rothman and Salant, the convention organizers said the press would still be able to sit elsewhere in the convention hall if an outlet does not pay for a seat. But the pair said those seats would likely be in the so-called nosebleed section, potentially inhibiting reporters from moving quickly to the convention floor. The alternate seats would also likely be without access to an electrical outlet.
The Democrats have yet to make a decision on whether to charge a similar fee for their convention. "Obviously, this is a different year in terms of funding," Democratic National Committee convention spokeswoman April Mellody wrote in an email, "but it's too early in our planning for a definitive determination on this."
The press galleries are tasked with approving media credentials for the July conventions and overseeing workspaces for both the GOP convention in Cleveland and the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
The journalists said they made their case in the meeting, which they described as cordial, but the convention officials had already made up their mind.
“I said I was disappointed that is was being presented to us in a fait accompli, without them talking to any working journalists,” said the Newark Star-Ledger's Salant.
"They’re asking the press, which is a representative of the public, to pay an access fee to cover public officials at a public event in a public arena where some of the costs are paid for by the public, like security," Salant said.
Salant also stressed that the cost could have an adverse effect on smaller outlets, which will be weighing the value of sending journalists to the conventions.
“A lot of small outlets have been cutting back. Newspapers have been cutting back, websites have been cutting back," Salant said. "And this is, including convention coverage, this is one more argument against people coming to cover the convention."
For Rothman, charging the writing press for roughly 400 seats at the convention sets an unwelcome precedent.
"The question that I ended with was what happens four years from now? What happens eight years from now?" Rothman said. "It’s $150 now, which already is prohibitive for many of the major dailies and the periodical press. What is it going to be?”
The journalists said staff would likely continue to have meetings about the subject, and their next step would be informing their colleagues about the development.
“People don’t know about it yet," Salant said. "We’re going to tell the news organizations what the story is, and we’ll see what happens from here.”
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