The Bloggers' FAQ on Media Access can help bloggers who need to get access to public records and government meetings, as well as secure press passes to help with newsgathering.
Does the First Amendment provide a right to gather news?
Yes. Because the right to publish news necessarily depends on the ability to gather information, restrictions on your right to gather news raise First Amendment concerns. However, some courts have found that news media have no constitutional right of access to places where the general public is excluded. If a government official denies you access to a public place (such as a city street, a public park, the county courthouse, or a jail), contact an attorney — you may have a claim against the government.
Can bloggers get press passes?
Yes. Some government agencies have established procedures for obtaining press credentials (a means of identifying yourself as a journalist). Government agencies are prohibited from deciding arbitrarily whether you are entitled to a press credential, and are required to publish the standards used. See, e.g. the State Department Press Credential Standards. For example, a federal court determined that Consumer Reports was unconstitutionally denied access to the Congressional press gallery based on "arbitrary and unnecessary regulations with a view to excluding from news sources representatives of publications whose ownership or ideas they consider objectionable."
An online journalist seeking access to the Congressional press gallery was initially denied access because he was not a full-time journalist, and not working on salary for a for-profit organization. However, the Periodical Correspondents' Association, which determines access, subsequently adopted broader regulations that allowed for online journalists.
Can bloggers get access to courts for newsgathering?
Yes. Most states allow public access to courts, allowing the press (whether or not they're writing for an online publication) the same right of access as the public. For more information, see the First Amendment Project's guide to court access. Some courts provide their own guides: for example, see the US Federal Court's Guide for Journalists and California Courts' Online Press Center.
Can bloggers get access to public meetings for newsgathering?
Yes. Many states generally require meetings of public bodies to be open and public. This includes meetings by county and city agencies, school districts, agency boards, commissions, committees, and the like. Under limited circumstances, the agency can conduct a closed meeting (such as for addressing certain personnel issues). For more information, see the RCFP's compendium of state-by-state open meetings laws.
Can bloggers get access to public records?
Yes. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), anyone can seek access to public records held by federal agencies. Members of the news media are entitled to a fee waiver. The definition of news media has been interpreted broadly, and we believe that a blogger who is gathering news for a public blog should qualify. For more information, see the Bloggers' FAQ on the Freedom of Information Act.
States also have public records laws. For example, the California Public Records Act provides access to public records held by state and local agencies. For more information, see the First Amendment Project's Guide to the California Public Records Act.
I'm a podcaster — can I record my interviews?
Yes — but you may need to get consent from the people you interview. Many states require all parties to consent for recording audio. Some states also prohibit hidden cameras. See the RCFP's Tape-Recording Laws at a Glance.