Evicting The Press p. 14

By: Mark Fitzgerald State of Michigan cites need for more office space in Capitol
building; gives media until Jan. 1 to move out pressroom

MICHIGAN HAS NAILED an eviction notice on the door of the Capitol pressroom.
Citing an unspecified need for more office space, the state government is giving news organizations until Jan. 1 to move from the historic pressroom, as well as several adjacent offices in a basement complex in the Capitol building in Lansing that has been a rent-free home for newspapers and news agencies for as long as anyone can remember.
Charles Hill, Michigan bureau chief for the largest tenant in the Capitol press area, the Associated Press, said state officials have never made it clear why they want to clear journalists out.
"I don't know that they know what they are going to use [the space] for," Hill said in a telephone interview.
Earlier this year, Hill said, state officials approached AP about paying rent on its office adjacent to the pressroom.
"We said that's fine ? how much do you want? They gave us a figure and we went back and forth and then they came up with this idea that non-government people shouldn't be in these quarters when they are needed by state government," Hill said.
What happened during the rent negotiations was that the state Attorney General's Office determined that government-owned space could be leased to private organizations only if that space was declared surplus.
Since many lawmakers themselves are forced to find offices outside the Capitol building, the space could not legally be considered surplus, the office determined.
Michigan lawmakers stoutly deny they are taking the press space out of any malice towards journalists, but it is also clear that the eviction is the latest in a series of actions the state has taken to whittle away privileges once held by statehouse correspondents.
According to a story by Detroit Free Press Lansing bureau chief Chris Christoff, Michigan House and Senate officials in 1988 took away prime parking spaces for statehouse reporters and gave them to legislative staffers. And Christoff's article notes that this latest eviction notice was not the first attempt to oust news organizations from the pressroom ? just the most successful.
Located at the end of a maze-like series of corridors in the Capitol basement, the pressroom was never the kind of all-purpose meeting area for journalists, legislators and lobbyists that press office areas are in many other statehouses, AP's Hill said.
Nevertheless, he added, it was a convenient spot for officials to drop off news releases or for smaller press organizations, who do not have a formal office in Lansing, to maintain a kind of mail drop.
Statehouse officials say they will find a central ? if small ? area that will have mailboxes where press releases can be distributed. And, the Free Press' Christoff reported, there are plans to install computer modems for journalists' use.
Press galleries in the House and Senate floors will also be maintained, Statehouse officials say.


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