NM reporter's rally ejection ignites controversy over press access - Albuquerque Journal

NM reporter’s rally ejection ignites controversy over press access

Shaun Griswold, senior reporter for Source New Mexico, a nonprofit news organization, was barred from entering a political rally Sunday, but interviewed voters outside the venue. (Courtesy of Source New Mexico)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Shaun Griswold – a veteran reporter who’s worked in Colorado and New Mexico for a decade – drove hours to Carlsbad this week to cover Republican Mark Ronchetti’s political rally, one of the largest campaign events of the year.

He didn’t see a minute of the speeches.

The campaign denied him a press credential. It also barred him from entry as a member of the public after he had obtained a ticket the same way anyone else would.

The reason: Ronchetti’s campaign contends the publication Griswold now works for – Source New Mexico, part of a nonprofit network of news outlets – is a left-wing advocacy group, not a legitimate media organization, citing, in part, its funding sources. The campaign also took issue with a story the organization published earlier this summer.

The ejection of Griswold has injected into the gubernatorial campaign a fresh debate over press access and who should qualify for press credentials.

The nonpartisan New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has weighed in, calling it “a dangerous precedent to let any public servant decide who is and is not a ‘legitimate’ reporter.”

Melanie Majors, interim executive director of the foundation, said the group was reluctant to wade into a political fight. But she said the foundation couldn’t be silent about the refusal to allow a particular reporter or organization to attend a rally.

“Reporters are the eyes and ears of the public,” she said in a letter this week. “If they can be silenced by being denied access to events of public interest, the members of the public are the ultimate victims.”

Griswold, for his part, came away with a story. He stood outside the civic center in Carlsbad and talked to rally attendees leaving the event.

Financial support

The dispute centers on Ronchetti’s rally in Carlsbad on Sunday with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate. It drew about 1,000 attendees – making it one of the largest events of its kind this year – as DeSantis slammed “woke” institutions and ideology, encouraging voters to back Ronchetti’s campaign for governor.

Ronchetti, a Republican and former television meteorologist, is running against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat seeking a second term, and Libertarian Karen Bedonie in the Nov. 8 election.

A writer for the Albuquerque Journal was among the television and newspaper reporters granted credentials to cover the Sunday rally, which featured about an hour of speeches.

Enrique Knell, a Ronchetti campaign spokesman, said Source New Mexico was denied a credential because it isn’t a legitimate news outlet. He cited financial support its parent network received from AFSCME, a union group, and other sources he characterized as “left wing.”

“Our campaign credentials and admits all legitimate outlets and reporters,” Knell said in a written statement. “Source NM is a liberal advocacy group – not a legitimate news organization. There has been extensive reporting by other news outlets on the liberal groups that fund Source NM, exposing their liberal agenda.”

Source New Mexico is part of a network of 29 publications linked to States Newsroom, a nonprofit group that discloses donations over $500.

The newsroom says on its website that donations “support our journalistic mission but do not influence our editorial direction. We maintain a strict separation between our funding and our journalism.”

It also added that the group doesn’t “accept corporate donations or underwriting, nor do we accept donations from foreign governments or anonymous sources.”

Among the roughly 110 donors listed on its website are AFSCME, a union group for government employees; the Google News Initiative Journalism Emergency Relief Fund; the Piedmont Environmental Council and Coalition for Smarter Growth; and a host of individuals, charitable funds and other organizations.

States Newsroom also said it has received 25,000 contributions of $500 or less.

A 2019 story published on Governing.com reported that the States Newsroom network was launched as a sponsored project of the Hopewell Fund, which it described as a left-leaning nonprofit group focused on “social change” projects. Chris Fitzsimon, the publisher and director at States Newsroom who once founded a left-leaning think tank in North Carolina, said Hopewell had provided back end support, but not funding, according to the Governing story.

Debate over media access has flared periodically in New Mexico politics. The Santa Fe Reporter, a weekly newspaper, received a $360,000 settlement from the state of New Mexico after accusing then-Gov. Susana Martinez of violating the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

The agreement came after the paper won a court ruling in 2017 that said the Martinez administration had violated the records law. The Santa Fe Reporter, however, didn’t prevail on a separate claim, which alleged the administration had violated the “free press” clause of the state Constitution by illegally denying access to information that was provided to other news outlets.

Lujan Grisham has also faced some media access questions. The balls in the evening of her 2019 inauguration, for example, were closed to the press.

Full editorial control

Source Editor in Chief Marisa Demarco – a longtime journalist who has worked for KUNM, the Albuquerque Tribune and the Weekly Alibi – said she has full editorial control over the publication, which operates a website and shares its work with newspapers and other media outlets.

“Nobody has ever told me what to publish or what frame the articles should take or anything like that,” Demarco said in an interview. “We are a completely independent shop.”

The organization, she noted, has won awards this year, including first place from the regional Society of Professional Journalists for political news, for a story on mistakes in state budget legislation.

The publication’s reporters, Demarco said, adhere to the SPJ ethics code, which calls for fair, accurate reporting.

Demarco said Griswold registered to attend the Ronchetti rally as a member of the public while she also sought a press credential for the organization to cover it.

The night before the rally, Demarco said, Knell said he was denying a credential based on their “past interactions.” The only previous complaint, Demarco said, had been about a story centering on Ronchetti’s appearance on a radio show, where the host asked him about his stance on the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers and others.

In any case, Griswold had a public ticket to Sunday’s rally and drove down to cover it. Private security at the door had a picture of him and denied him entry.

Griswold – a member of the Native American Journalists Association and winner this year of awards from NAJA and SPJ – made a sign identifying himself as a journalist and interviewed people as they left the rally.

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