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A slap at alternatives?

Two reporters say they were booted out of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association because they write for alternative newspapers.

Backing them up was Terry Smith, editor of the alternative Athens (Ohio) News, who called the action a"deliberate slap at the alternative press."

But Alan Johnson, president of OLCA and a political reporter for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, denied the ouster was based on the correspondents, altemative connections.

Irv Oslin and Michael Weber, former associate members of OLCA, were voted out of the organization earlier this year in what Oslin described to E&P as a "concerted effort to get rid of us."

Ostin freelanced pofitical conimentarv from the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus for the Athens News, Cleveland Free Times, Cincinnati CityBeat, Ohio Observer, Dayton Voice and the now-defunct Columbus Guardian.

Weber, a former staff member of the Newsday investigative reporting team, who worked for the Guardian, said his removal from OLCA was "clearly an attempt to purify the ranks of correspondents. They wanted to make sure there wowd be no place for the altematives."

Ostin said a regular member of OLCA later "tipped me that what happened was that the old guard was upset with the younger members for having allowed alternative newspapers into the club."

Both writers claimed their lack of OLCA membership restricts their coverage of the Statehouse.

Weber said that besides himself and Oslin, two rcporters for nondaily business publications came up for a review of their membership by the OLCA board.

"When the vote came down, the business people stayed in and Irv and I were out," Weber recalled.

"They were saying, there is no place for alternatives in OLCA."

Johnson confirmed the vote but gave a different rationale for the its results.

"Basically," he said in an interview, "the vote came after several months of dicussion of how we had let the membership get beyond its original intent, which was to limit it to correspondents from daily newspapers, radio and television, who cover the Statehouse on a regular basis.

"This was not a vote against alternatives but an effort to adhere to rules that had been in place for years."

The OLCA president said the decision to continue the membership of the business journalists was over his objection.

"I wanted an four in or all four out, but I was outvoted," he explained.

Johnson disagreed that lack of OLCA membership will hamper Oslin's and Weber's ability to cover the legislature and state administrative offices.

"There is absolutely nothing they cannot do here because they don't have membership," he asserted.

Not true, Oslin retorted.

"I am allowed into the pressroom but I no longer have a box or credentials and I'm having difficulty getting state files," he said. "I'm relegated to second-class citizenshi in the eves of the people I cover."

Weber, who is currently freelancing, said his loss of credentials was brought home to him recently when a state highway patrolman prevented him from covering an Aryan Nations rally on the steps of the capitol building because he lacked OLCA credentials.

The OLCA board notified Oslin by letter that he would stih be entitled to all press releases, mailings, announcements and other items flowing into the pressroom. Also, according to the letter, he would be given temporary floor passes for the House and Senate and that his name would be placed on media lists made available to public agencies and departments "upon your request."

Athens News editor Snlith, who has worked for mainstream dailies, wrote to the OLCA board, expressing "extreme alarm" at the vote to take away Oslin's membership.

"The reason for this unanimous vote appears to be the fact that Irv does not represent a daily newpaper ... who regularly covers the General Assembly and/or state government," he added. "Yet, there doesn't seem to be any parallel hair-splitting for individuals representing different types of radio, TV and news service outlets."

Smith contended that ally OLCA rule requiring emplovment on a daily newspaper "smacks of censorship and competitive defensiveness on your parts and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. ... You have inexplicably singled out one Statehouse reporter from admission to an association of Statehouse journalists, and consequently barred him from the important advantages that go along with membership. In so doing, you have also handicapped the many thousands of readers of our newspaper and others who depend on Irv's reporting."

In the interview, Smith did not accept Johnson's denial of a bias against the alternative Press. He pointed to a statement by OLCA past President Sandy Theis, Columbus bureau chief for the Cincinnati Enquirer, to support his belief.

Theis was quoted as follows in the newsletter of the Association of Alternative Newspapers about her vote to drop Oslin: "I think what Irv wants is to use OLCA membership as a badge of legitimacy for what he does and what his publication does. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to legitimize that."

She reportedly called Oslin's coverage "really irreverent and very incomplete. I would even quibble with the word `cover.'"

Commented Smith: "I didn't think it was an OLCA function to look at how people cover things and then establish whether or not they deserve to be members."

Dayton Voice editor and co-publisher Marrianne McMullen also wrote to OLCA on behalf of Oslin, claiming that his "Statehouse Wrapup" column is a popular feature of her readers "and frequently their only source of news about the Statehouse. More than one-third of our readers never read a daily newspaper ...."

How, McMullen asked, "does it benefit the OLCA, or daily newspaper reporters in general, to hamper our coverage of the Ohio Statehouse?"
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Title Annotation:reporters Irv Oslin and Michael Weber charge they were ousted from Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association for writing for alternative newspapers
Author:Stein, M.L.
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Apr 5, 1997
Words:936
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