Gothamist gets its press pass

By Felix Salmon
March 1, 2012

In August 2004, Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin applied for working-press credentials from the NYPD. An avid and ubiquitous news photographer, he clearly qualified for the credentials on any common-sense grounds. But the NYPD denied his request on the grounds that Gothamist was a website, and the NYPD didn’t consider anybody working for a website to be a journalist. (Seriously.) Thus did the saga of Gothamist’s press pass begin.

Eventually, in 2009, the NYPD was forced, thanks to a lawsuit, to start issuing credentials to bloggers. But it still clearly didn’t want to. And Gothamist still had zero press passes.

The story from then on in is a long one: Gothamist editor Chris Robbins’s post from last December on the subject runs to more than 2,700 words. But basically there are a few things you officially need a press pass for, including getting the NYPD’s “press wire” emails. And there are even more things that you unofficially need a press pass for, including being considered a journalist by the Mayor’s press secretary.

I’m with Dobkin on this one: the whole system of the NYPD making highly-secretive determinations as to who is and who isn’t press is broken, and the best outcome here would be to simply abolish the things altogether. But given that they do exist, Gothamist should clearly qualify for them: as Dobkin says, they’re a legitimate media organization with over 25 employees and more than 2.5 million unique readers in New York City. This isn’t some guy in his pajamas. “Next time someone accuses a blog of aggregating,” Dobkin tweeted the last time he was rejected, “ask yourself, how can they avoid aggregating without all the tools required to produce original posts?”

This story has a happy ending, of sorts. On February 28 — some 90 months after his initial application — Dobkin was told that his latest application had been approved. The pass arrived today.

Still, Dobkin’s fight is a timely reminder, as we remember one of the most influential online-media innovators of all time, that the real world can move astonishingly slowly by internet standards. Print still has a cachet that most online publications struggle to achieve, and uncontroversial news outlets like Gothamist get lumped in with provocateurs like Andrew Breitbart in the mind of information officers and PR people in New York and across the country. Breitbart and Dobkin both, in their own ways, made significant advances in terms of expanding the possibilities of online news. But Breitbart made a much bigger splash. And, in doing so, didn’t help Dobkin’s cause in the slightest.

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