December 19, 2013

On Tuesday, press organizations met with officials at the White House to discuss access to the president. Frustrated news organizations hand-delivered a letter to the White House in late November, complaining that “Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties.”

David Boardman, Dean of Temple University’s School of Media and Communication and president of the American Society of News Editors, was there. In a phone call with Poynter, he said the White House showed it is taking the matter seriously by holding the meeting.

What came out of the meeting was an agreement to form a working group of people from the coalition of media organizations and the White House to examine past issues of access and come up with specific guidelines for the future.

And it’s not just going to be meetings, Boardman said:

“I think and expect this was not just a meeting of niceties and platitudes, but that it was the beginning of a process that’s going to result in some concrete steps.”

The officials in attendance included White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, senior staff and White House counsel, said Boardman, who is a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board. Boardman said Carney told them “None of us believe that the work of White House photographers replaces the work of independent press photographers. I deeply believe that.”

According to a press release from ASNE, the meeting included “representatives of the American Society of News Editors, the White House Correspondents Association, Associated Press Media Editors, White House News Photographers Association, National Press Photographers Association and representatives of the television network pool.”

A few days after the letter to the White House, USA Today said it wouldn’t, as a rule, run handout photos from the White House. McClatchy updated its policy as well.

Technology has given the Obama administration “the ability to circumvent the people’s press in a way that previous administrations didn’t have,” Boardman said.

Carney has tried to frame complaints from the journalist coalition as simply competition between the press and the White House, Boardman said. But it’s not.

“It’s as much about future administrations and what we do now is setting essential precedents for the future.”

It’s about “access,” he added, “and the First Amendment and democracy.”

Related: Carney: ‘We did not create the Internet, this administration’ | PoynterVision: White House photo practices break promise of open government

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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