SACRAMENTO, Calif. The California Highway Patrol is dropping its decades-old practice of issuing media passes to reporters, citing the changing nature of journalism as well as security issues and the expense.
"Everyone with a video camera or Web site was requesting them," CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said on Nov. 5. "It was mostly just a management nightmare of who's in and who's out, and some abuse. People were using them to get into baseball games and everything else."
No background checks were conducted, so anyone could send in an application and get one of the official laminated cards, creating a potential security problem. Issuing the cards took about a third of one employee's time, though the expense for the cards themselves was perhaps a few thousand dollars, Marshall said.
"Our biggest problem is, who is a journalist?" he said. "It almost got to the point of government licensing journalists, and nobody's comfortable with that."
The CHP now plans to treat anyone showing a media-affiliated business card or media pass as a journalist.
Even the old official pass "doesn't really entitle you to anything," Marshall said. "It really doesn't get you much, other than at crash scenes; if it's not a crime scene, it gets you by the yellow tape."
The CHP has been working with the California Broadcasters Association and California Newspaper Publishers Association to determine if the news-media organizations have problems or want to develop alternatives to the policy.
The groups are just beginning discussions, said Mark Powers, vice president of the broadcasters association. That organization represents 968 radio and television stations.
The CHP has been cooperative, Powers said, so "I'm really not that worried that this isn't going to be something that's handled well."
The CHP plans to continue running background checks and taking photographs for journalists accredited by the governor's office for admission to Capitol news conferences and other events, including most appearances by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.