By Justin Ling
Blacklock's Reporter just wants to sit alongside the Vietnam News Agency. And it looks like it'll get its wish.
I'm sitting across from the Tom Korski, editor of the nascent Reporter, in the Jean-Marc-Poliquin Lounge of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. "Can you smell the smoke?" he asks, gesturing around. Smoking has been banned in the House for decades, but he swears he can smell du Maurier cigarettes.
Blacklock's is Ottawa's newest news source. Under the tagline “Minding Ottawa's Business," the website and its team of seasoned parliamentary reporters, guarded by a paywall, is looking to provide Canada with coverage that focuses on being irreverent, colourful and free of punditry and "gushing columnizing," says Korski. That means no reporting on Twitter, no Storifies, and no partisan rhetoric masquerading as editorial. Korski describes it as old-school journalism in a digital world, and it's Canada's only journalist-owned and operated news source. Its website lists six journalists and editors on staff.
But Blacklock's, not even a month old, hit its first roadblock last week. Its journalists, who Korski adds have an average membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery of 20 years, faced possible trouble being accredited by the Gallery—a privilege that the Vietnam News Agency enjoys.
Blacklock's features editor, Holly Doan, applied to the Gallery to have her accreditation switched to Blacklock's. The Gallery responded by asking for details about the website's organization, Korski said.
Blacklock's was asked to provide information on who is involved with the organization: who is on staff, who is on payroll, and the like. The letter sent by the Gallery also inquired into exactly what Blacklock's was.
Korski provided the Gallery with a link to their website. Beyond that? "It's proprietary information," he says. "It's none of their business."
Nor, it seems, anyone else's. Korski, when asked about transparency at Blacklock's, simply insisted that "we're a private company." They have no interest in releasing any details on Blacklock's governance or funding.
The Press Gallery may have agreed that it's not, in fact, any of its business. Doan's accreditation has been granted. In a statement issued Thursday evening, the Gallery said "it is appropriate to follow normal protocol for a request for accreditation of a new member of the Gallery and grant Ms. Doan a six month temporary membership, during which her eligibility for permanent membership will be assured."
If the Gallery had rejected Blacklock's application, they would have joined the sordid ranks of Frank Magazine in having their credentials denied.
The controversy emerged when Blacklock's insisted the Gallery was looking for much more than the basics. A post on the Reporter's website says that the Gallery was looking for "details of its corporate structure, the names of all partners and contributors and terms of contracts with its writers."
Chris Rands, president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, insisted that the Gallery was asking for no such thing.
"The story is inaccurate," he says. "We're only asking for journalistic information." He says that the Gallery has "no interest in financials."
Rands says that the Gallery was looking for information on Blacklock's staff - who is on payroll, and who is freelance - before they gave Blacklock's the temporary six month membership that is standard for all new applicants.
Korski saw something more sinister at work.
"We think it is because we are an online publication," he says. "It's the only convoluted logic that I can find."
Korski says he's a big believer in the Press Gallery rules—he's tried to get both Sun Media and Xinhua expelled from the Gallery for not meeting expectations of journalistic independence—but he says the Gallery is operating outside its constitution.
That constitution, which predates several of the provinces and Canada as a nation, is something Korski knows well.
He argued that to be admitted to the gallery, all you need is journalist bona fides and an employer. Since Doan already has that—not to mention that she has been previously accredited since 1993, during which time she worked for CTV and CPAC, according to her LinkedIn profile—Korski saw the spectre of limiting the freedom of the press.
"I don't know of any MP or senator who would ask us these questions," he says, and since the constitution doesn't specifically require a news organization to provide details of its operational structure, "it's not open to interpretation."
It appears the Gallery agreed, as it issued Blacklock’s its Gallery credentials late last week. Blacklock’s had pledged to file a lawsuit if Doan’s application had been rejected.