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Blogger Seeks Press Credentials

An attorney turned blogger in Maryland is pressing his case in court to gain press credentials to cover the General Assembly.

From the Daily Record [1]

Jay Liner’s business card for The Baltimore Organ lists him as “Founder & Chief Protagonist” of the Web site. The Pikesville lawyer is a self-described boomer from the anti-Vietnam generation, a progressive who writes about “what piques his curiosity,” from the slots debate to Baltimore County politics to Viagra commercials.

But is he a journalist?

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s press office said no, denying him a State House press pass to cover the General Assembly session.

Liner says yes, and has filed a lawsuit to force the O’Malley administration to issue him a press pass. If he is successful, Liner would become only the second Internet-exclusive information source to have media credentials in Annapolis.

Liner has no desire to become a trailblazer in the blogosphere, but he acknowledges the lawsuit reflects how the Internet has forever changed the way people consume news.

“This is the modern delivery system,” he said. “Why should this be treated differently?”

It’s a question government officials, media lawyers and even reporters themselves struggle to answer.

“It’s the tough hypothetical you give to classes on a final to tell the good students from the bad ones,” said Mark Graber, a constitutional law and politics professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Liner, formerly the Baltimore County Attorney, started his site around Labor Day 2008 and now averages 1,000 hits a week. In addition to his blog posts, he has posted interviews with former governors Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes, as well as Rep. Frank Kratovil during his successful campaign two years ago for the Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

Late last year, Liner approached his friend and state senator, James Brochin, with an idea. Liner wanted to interview Brochin in Annapolis throughout the session on whatever was news in the General Assembly and post the “uncensored, unfiltered” conversations on his Web site. Liner planned to ask other lawmakers to participate as well.

Liner, who does not have a journalism background, said he would have been in Annapolis fairly regularly.

“I certainly went into this with serious intentions,” he said. “I wasn’t going to impede the process. I would follow the directives. I wouldn’t have gone down there to disrupt the system.”

In December, Liner called the Department of General Services, which formally issues the press passes, and was told the governor’s press office decides who receives them. Liner said he called the governor’s press office but never received a reply.

He enlisted the help of Brochin’s office and, in January, soon after the session began, he learned from the senator’s aide that his request had been denied. Among the reasons given was that his site had “no original content regarding state government,” according to an e-mail from the aide.

Shaun Adamec, O’Malley’s press secretary, said he had no knowledge of Liner contacting the press office and said all of its dealings had been through Brochin’s office. Adamec declined to comment further because the lawsuit is pending.

Liner filed his writ of mandamus in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court the last week in February.

“I feel like I did everything I possibly could to get this resolved under a normal process,” he said.

Howard Goldman, Liner’s lawyer, called the administration’s original-content argument “not only false, but insulting.” Goldman alleges Liner was arbitrarily denied press credentials.

“To merely turn him down is absolutely violative of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights,” said Goldman, of Rochlin & Goldman P.A. “It’s not like there was an administrative process out there.”

Liner may not be a traditional journalist but if he is earnest about covering the state house and has an existing blog that deals with state issues then why shouldn’t he be granted access? 

I think it’s a little funny that Liner describes himself as a progessive which would put him on the same page as the current administration in Annapolis and yet he was turned down. 

Could it be that the governor’s office is not playing favorites?  What a concept!