Ohio’s Statehouse press corps, technically known as the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA), receives privileges denied to the citizens forced to foot the bill. The State charges OLCA no rent for the press room at the Ohio Statehouse, and OLCA decides who can access the House and Senate floors.
As OLCA explains on its website, the quasi-governmental body “functions independently to ensure only legitimate reporters are granted floor privileges in the House of Representatives and Senate.”
The General Assembly created the Statehouse press corps in 1893 to ensure newspaper reporters had access to the legislature, in an era when legislators worked at their desks on the House and Senate floors.
Put in context, OLCA formed ten years before Henry Ford sold his first Model A, decades before broadcast radio became widespread, and only one year after electric lighting was installed in the Statehouse.
Today most OLCA members work for corporations with office space a stone’s throw from the capitol, and legislators can be contacted in their offices in person or via email, fax, or phone. The press corps now functions primarily as a liberal filter between Ohio’s elected officials and the public.
Why aren’t the taxpayer resources devoted to OLCA instead used for improving State communications directly to the public through the web, email lists, or The Ohio Channel? Even if it were justified to give “legitimate” reporters privileges that are denied to the public, OLCA flouts the guidelines set forth by the legislature.
Senate rules dictate that OLCA members must not be “controlled by or connected with an association, firm, corporation, or individual representing any trade, profession, or other commercial enterprise,” which disqualifies all employees of Ohio Newspaper Association members.
The Ohio Newspaper Association lobbies the General Assembly, and Ohio’s newspapers are all for-profit businesses entangled with countless conflicts of interest.
The Columbus Dispatch, for instance, is published by Dispatch Printing Company CEO John Wolfe, who sits on the executive committee of the Columbus Partnership and is a member of the Ohio Business Roundtable. This spring, Wolfe and his wife each donated $12,000 to the reelection campaign of Governor John Kasich.
Dispatch Senior Editor Joe Hallett, an OLCA member, writes news stories for the Dispatch and has described critics of Gov. Kasich’s push for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion as “fringe,” “bent on society’s regression,” “legislative ideologues,” and “rigid intimidators” in Dispatch opinion columns.
To far too great an extent, the Dispatch – with seven reporters in the Statehouse press corps – sets the tone for news coverage statewide.
Media Trackers Ohio requested OLCA membership in 2012, but the fact that we were honest about our conservative perspective was unacceptable.
The OLCA board “voted unanimously to reject” our applications because Media Trackers is donor-funded, was a subsidiary of conservative nonprofit American Majority at the time of our application, and in the words of Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel, “each of you is more accurately described as a political activist than a professional journalist.”
John Michael Spinelli, a former OLCA member and current Examiner.com contributor who applied to OLCA several years ago while reporting for the web-based OhioNews Bureau, was also refused membership.
In February 2008, Spinelli wrote, “what’s the purpose of giving a policy-making (for the media at least), public body like OLCA (they are a creature of the General Assembly) exclusive access to the floors of the upper and lower bodies? What’s so important about a few feet of space?”
Spinelli continued, “Are the reasons that led to its formation in 1893 by then-Statehouse reporter William Faulkner still relevant enough in today’s vastly changed world of news and information to justify their fear of adding a new-media, online news and information group to their ranks?”