Amid the new media landscape, who, exactly, is a journalist? That question is at the heart of a lawsuit filed against the New York City Police Department on Wednesday on behalf of three men – Rafael Martínez Alequin, Ralph E. Smith and David Wallis – who say that they were unfairly denied press passes because they work for online or nontraditional news outlets, reports the city’s Times. The lawsuit asserts the three men were denied press credentials in 2007 “with little explanation or opportunity for appeal,” and that the system for issuing press credentials is “inconsistent and constitutionally flawed.”
“The system of granting press credentials in New York City has run amok and needs to be changed immediately,” said Norman Siegel, the civil-liberties lawyer, who is representing the three men. The city responded that the issuance of press passes “strikes an appropriate balance between First Amendment concerns and public safety.” The Police Department issues working press cards to “full-time employee of a news-gathering organization” who cover breaking news” and press identification cards to journalists who are “employed by a legitimate news organization” but who do “not normally cover spot or breaking news events.” Wallis is the founder of featurewell.com, a syndication service. Smith publishes The Guardian Chronicle, a Web site for black law enforcement workers, and Alequin, a longtime City Hall gadfly, is publisher of an online publication, The New York City Free Press.