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San Diego Sheriff's Spokeswoman: Here's Why I Discriminate Against Bloggers

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This week the spokeswoman for the San Diego Sheriff's Department was invited to a panel sponsored by a local journalism group called "Grade The Media," and boy did she. She used her time on the panel to rail against one of her biggest issues with the media: fat bloggers who don't wear proper footwear.

To start, spokeswoman Jan Caldwell explained to the room full of journalists why it is so important to be nice to her: "If you are rude, if you are obnoxious, if you are demanding, if you call me a liar, I will probably not talk to you anymore. And there's only one sheriff's department in town, and you can go talk to the deputies all you want but there's one PIO."

Then Caldwell went on to discuss why she would like to create a credentialing process in San Diego that discriminates against bloggers, using stereotypes from straight out of 2003:

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You can sit with your Apple laptop and your fuzzy slippers, you can be an 800-pound disabled man that can't get out of bed and be a journalist, because you can blog something. Does that give you the right—because you blog in your fuzzy slippers out of your bedroom and you don't go out and you haven't gotten that degree—should you be called a journalist? Or should you be like Pauline [unclear] who graduated from journalism school and has been doing this a long time or JW or Dennis? Are you on the same par? In my estimation—and I'd like to hear from Darren and Michael on that—no. Because Pauline and JW and Matt and the others that have been doing this a long time and they know the questions to ask, as will you. But if you're just sitting at home with your laptop blogging and you just want to get under my skin or you're CityBeat—left to Lenin, oh my God—then, yeah. So I drop that out on you all: what do you all think of that?

There's a lot to tackle, even before you consider the fact that Caldwell doesn't seem to think much of overweight or disabled men. For starters, there's the fact that many outstanding journalists don't have a journalism degree. There's the fact that plenty of bloggers have done tremendous journalistic good both within and outside of the traditional news outlets. Also, there's the fact that all the experienced journalists Caldwell seems to trust were rookies themselves at one point. But Caldwell doesn't seem to have a lot of patience for this ilk of journalists (or the so-called commies at San Diego CityBeat, even though they print on dead trees).Sara Libby, managing editor for the nonprofit, investigative and online-only news outfit Voice Of San Diego, points out how silly it is for someone with the title "public information officer" to ignore these online hordes even if they are as ignorant as Caldwell imagines:
Even if there are thousands of these elusive, basement-dwelling, slippers-sporting, uninformed bloggers beating down the doors of local public affairs officers (I mean metaphorically, of course, you can't beat down doors in slippers and without leaving the basement), wouldn't they be precisely the people whose writing would be improved with the help of a robust, accurate source of information from their government? This database lists the position of "public affairs officer, sheriff" for the County of San Diego at an annual salary of $68,640 to $131,040. If the county is paying someone upward of $130,000 to disseminate information, he or she should feel obligated to answer anyone with a notepad and an earnest question (asked nicely), whether they live in a basement, a mansion or a storm drain.

We're not sure exactly what kind of information bloggers have asked for that has so rankled Caldwell. But it sounds like Caldwell's approach to public information might just be illegal. If the public asks—or even demands—public records, they're entitled to them. Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn't unusual. In 2007, Californians Aware partnered with reporters and conducted an undercover statewide audit of law enforcement agencies. Most of the agencies from the CHP to sheriff's departments to police departments failed miserably. Under the California Public Records Act, citizens should be able to walk into a law enforcement agency and ask to see documents about what sorts of crimes are happening in your neighborhood. Reporters—and, yes, even many bloggers—know it's not always that easy. In the survey, undercover auditors were asked by clerks and police officers illegally who they were, what the documents were for and some even had to give their IDs. Even after all of that, many of them walked away empty-handed. So as much as we're not completely surprised to hear Caldwell's remarks, it's still discouraging and appalling.

The credentialing system that Caldwell dreams about is a reality in New York City. Our east coast counterparts at Gothamist have had to jump through hoop after Kafka-esque hoop for eight years and pay $5,000 in legal services in order to obtain two NYPD-issued press credentials. The reason it was so difficult had less to do with what Gothamist covers or the way it covers it and more to do with the fact that it is not traditional media.

We're happy to report just how Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin expressed his resentment at the entire process at the legal hearing that ultimately helped the site snag press credentials: by wearing blue socks with dinosaurs on them.

Inside Gothamist's Absurd Struggle To Get NYPD Press Passes
Gothamist Guide: How To Really Get An NYPD Press Pass
GOTHAMIST FINALLY GETS PRESS PASSES (After 8 Years And Thousands Spent On High-Profile Lawyer)