Harrisburg, PA Mayor Picks And Chooses Who The 'Real' Journalists Are

from the picking-a-fight dept

We talk a lot around here about stories with people trying to determine what “real journalism” is. Those stories tend to veer towards the incredibly dumb, with most centering on a misunderstanding of what journalism actually means in the digital age. For a long time, journalism was an alchemy performed by a select few wizards, horded by a few outlets, which vetted and locked up their product. Today, of course, the barriers of entry to doing any kind of journalism are lower and the ability to distribute that kind of work is virtually unlimited. And, despite what you might hear from some grumpy folks who prefer the good ol’ days, it turns out that smaller websites and independent citizens can journalism really well!

But not everybody has gotten that memo, apparently. Take Eric Papenfuse, Mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has recently, and apparently surprisingly, decided to ban anyone working for website PennLive to the weekly meetings and briefings the rest of the press is allowed to attend.

We allowed Papenfuse to speak on his behalf. He said the ban was put in place because he does not believe PennLive is a credible news outlet, therefore it should not be held to the same standard.

“I think PennLive is the equivalent to Gawker (a self-proclaimed gossip blog), not the equivalent of the Washington Post,” Papenfuse said, “and it needs to be understood and treated as such.”

Now, I’m quite familiar with Gawker, having both read the site and our own coverage of their escapades recently. So when I went to PennLive.com to check the site out, I was expecting snark and gossip alongside some substance, which is exactly how I would describe Gawker. Instead I was greeted by headlines over a missing 11 year old girl from the area, Harrisburg crime reporting, and stories about a motorcycle accident. I can’t say I’m sure that there is zero gossip on the site, but I can attest that I have yet to find even one sex-tape involving a professional wrestler. Honestly, the whole site seems like a basic local news site.

Observers appear to be equally confused.

Dave LaTorre, founder of LaTorre Communications, could not believe that a government official of a capital city could make such a public relations blunder.

“I call this breaking into jail,” LaTorre said. “You break into jail and you create a problem that wasn’t there.”

LaTorre said in full disclosure, he voted and donated to Papenfuse’s campaign. He was disappointed by Papenfuse’s decision Monday to limit access to PennLive reporters, no matter the reason.

“To pick a fight right now clearly will drown out a lot of the positive vibe that we felt here in the city,” he said.

Pressed for details, the good Mayor actually suggested that PennLive traffics in “hate speech.” When bewildered questioners asked what in the world he was talking about, he said:

When asked if even hate speech should be considered hate speech, the mayor said not when it concerns an “anonymous post.” Papenfuse added that PennLive must better police its public comment sections to be considered a legitimate news source before he will release the ban.

If this ends up being all about the site allowing its community to comment, and comment anonymously, then this is completely insane. First, as LaTorre pointed out, the Mayor ran on a campaign of transparency. To begin banning sites that allow the public to comment from press briefings is the opposite of transparency. It breeds a culture within the press where, absent the rest of the press ganging up in retaliation, foists a permission-like atmosphere, where positive coverage is rewarded with more access. There’s always some of that kind of thing that goes on, sure, but making it policy through banning unfavored publications? Come on.

Oh, and of course the Mayor’s attempt to drive traffic away from PennLive didn’t exactly go as planned.

LaTorre said that notion backfired as PennLive’s story on Papenfuse cutting off reporters has generated nearly 500 comments and thousands of page views.

“I’m looking at other comments. Twenty-six on one story,” LaTorre said. “Fifteen, 3, 5; this is Penn State story-type numbers.”

As a communications specialist, LaTorre advises Papenfuse to rescind his ban and apologize for the sake of the Office of Mayor and Harrisburg as a whole.

“Think about this decision. Reverse it,” he said, “and get back to governing.”

Papenfuse reportedly refused this advice. Banning the press for allowing comments and proclaiming a site as not being journalism? Oh, yeah, this should go well.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: pennlive

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Harrisburg, PA Mayor Picks And Chooses Who The 'Real' Journalists Are”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

There is a big problem with this and I doubt that the federal appellate courts are going to find in favor of this mayor because what he did violates the first amendment of the constitution by prohibiting journalists from attending a public meeting.

The first amendment does not allow the government to pick and choose what journalists should be considered to be legitimate journalism and that it’s not for government to decide that. It’s something that the courts have sole discretion in determining who is or isn’t a journalist.

There is no middle ground. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has classified independent journalists as real journalists should be a clue to this mayor and he has just given this independent journalist and the news media he works for, ground to sue the mayor and the town he represents.

Anonymous Coward says:

The mayor’s own example contradicts his explanation since the vaunted Washington Post’s website allows anonymous or pseudonymous commenting. The mayor’s just butthurt about the 1st amendment allowing people to say mean things about him. This is a gross abuse of power and a constitutional violation that should get him recalled.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

When asked if even hate speech should be considered hate speech, the mayor said not when it concerns an “anonymous post.”

This feels like a typo to me. It feels like it should say “When asked if even hate speech should be considered free speech…”

Also, “hoarded” is properly spelled with an A. “Horded” describes what happens to those in the path of a barbarian army.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems a lot of politicians have this idea. What it usually turns out to be is that some area of their responsibility has taken a serious hit in public trust. Rather than address and fix the issue, they come up with the best way to deal with it is to try to deny it coming in to print.

Obama and Bush followed this pattern. It hasn’t really helped them any more than it will help this mayor. Mainly because the problem is still there and remains unaddressed.

Welcome to one of the best methods to show your voters how much you care. /s

Finnegan (profile) says:

Can't find good help in Harrisburg

Quite a run of mayors Harrisburg has had. Reed: bankrupt city, steal artifacts, start Civil War museum nobody cares about, total embarrassment. Thompson: said stupid things on a daily, not familiar with English as a spoken language, total embarrassment. Papenfuse: bans the primary news outlet in the area, parking sellout destroying mid- & downtown, total embarrassment.

PennLive is a mess. They focus on nothing but sports, high school sports, college sports, rapes, murders, and occasionally local politics…they obviously fired all the writers who had experience writing in complete sentences at the same time they fired all the editors, and the commenters make Trump look super reasonable and reserved. That being said: Papenfuse screwed the pooch on this one. Yay central PA, way to let the world know that we’re still part of the “Alabama in the middle” between Pittsburgh and Philly.

That One Guy (profile) says:

So long as it continues to work...

And add another politicians who apparently believes that their positions includes a ‘Get Out Of Criticism Free’ card, and that once elected people aren’t allowed to say anything mean or critical of them.

Thing is though a large part of the reason thin-skinned people like this keep doing it is it works. Sure they might have to back down eventually, but by that point the damage has been done, and the message sent. ‘Say bad things about me and I will use my position to crush you’.

It’s not going to cost him his position or any of his own money, so why not abuse his power to screw over someone for saying something mean about him?

J.R. says:


Bürgermeister von Papenführer could start his own news site and call it Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) which would only publish the kind of “news” he wants. There used to be another such paper in Germany but all the principles seem to be deceased, so he won’t get sued for a trademark violation. Problem solved! /s

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: "not the equivalent of the Washington Post"

to be fair, the post was an establishment mouthpiece with pwetend liberal leanings for a l-o-n-g time before bezos…
the long time owners were spooked up big time, and no doubt they used both the paper and their -then- worldwide network of reporters as cover for all kinds of black ops…
the gummint is broken, the media is broken, the judiciary has been pervertedf, and civil organizations have been purposefully gutted and destroyed; The They ™ are leaving no means left to us but torches and pitchforks…
so be it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "not the equivalent of the Washington Post"

When I saw the shill for Comcast on the front page, all became clear. These guys would shill the virtues of cannibalism if Jeffry Dahmer bought a full page ad. The Amazonian Post is a conglomerate journalisticFat Man available to anyone willing to pay.

I wish people would stop saying “pitchfork revolt”. I get the impression they use this meme to try and avoid sounding like French ponces when what they really mean is “peasant revolt”. Both phrases are entirely disingenuous.

Does anyone in the United States own a pitchfork, and not also own a rifle? Is there such thing as a peasant in a country where everyone is armed? Has a pitchfork ever made up a notable percentage of weaponry in any combat action in the United States?

So what is the point of this meme? Perhaps it is intended to belittle the idea of revolt and assuage lemmings that the growing discontent is no real threat. Nothing to see here! Just go back to your half walled cubicle! The Demopublican alliance will take care of everything.

Not so much. No.

In 1776 it was about regulator capture of human rights. In 1861 it was about the regulator capture of human rights. Currently it is about the regulator capture of … human rights.

Join a third party. There is nothing to save in the Demopublican alliance. That is how we change this.

Whatever (parody) says:

Something about how these weekly meetings belong to the mayor and he can do what he wants with them something something he should use copyright to restrict this defamation something something because without copyright defamation could continue something something defamation something copyright something defamation something something that conflates defamation with copyright and how copyright should be used to stop defamation something something his discretionary authority over meetings can be used how he sees fit something something something if you wish to allow anonymous comments you shouldn’t be surprised that it leads to defamation that will then be handled, something something after all the guy making the comment is a piece of work and was just intent on upsetting everyone and so if you want to host these types of comments it serves you right that you get restricted to the mayor’s meetings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

BTW, Whatever’s refusal to answer whenever someone points out the self contradictory nature of his posts and views or asks for clarification on something that we already know the answer to and we know that answer is contradictory to something he posted says a lot.

Just like here when whatever says

“I also think that non-revocable licensing such as this is a crock in many ways.”

but everyone knows that’s a bunch of contradictory nonsense because if I suggested that copy protections should be non-transferable whatever would scream about how that denies artists the ‘right’ to do what they want with their works. Or what about actors that appear in movies and television shows allowing for someone else to have full ‘rights’ over the footage of their acting and performance? When record labels and publishers do it then it’s fine but only when someone he’s not shilling for does it is it a bad thing I presume.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...