In the face of mounting criticism, the Alameda County DA's office has announced that The Berkeley Scanner will now be "welcome" at its press events.
On Wednesday, District Attorney Pamela Price and members of her media team refused to allow The Scanner to attend a press conference at her office HQ.
That morning, Price's media director, Haaziq Madyun, told Scanner founder Emilie Raguso that her inclusion on the press list was "under review." Madyun also questioned The Scanner's legitimacy as a news outlet.
First Amendment advocates quickly took up the cause. They strongly urged the DA's office to grant The Scanner its constitutionally protected right of access as a member of the press.
The DA's office initially dug in its heels, saying all reporters on its list had to be affiliated with a "national news network, local news affiliate, or a long-standing independent news journal" and work in a newsroom "with a management structure and editorial oversight."
The Scanner is a one-person operation that Raguso launched last year after working for nearly 20 years as a journalist, including 10 years at Berkeleyside, where she "was instrumental" in helping build the newsroom into a nationally-respected brand.
On Saturday, after failing to respond to numerous Scanner inquiries this week, the DA's office sent Raguso a one-line email just after 1:30 p.m.
"Your request to receive press releases and invitations to media events organized by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has been approved," the office wrote.
About 20 minutes later, the office issued a press release about its decision.
"Berkeley Scanner Editor-in-Chief Emilie Raguso is welcome to attend future press conferences organized by the office of the Alameda County District Attorney," the office wrote. "At the time of the DA’s press conference on November 29, 2023, her media credentials were under review."
According to the statement, the DA's office (DAO) has been in the process of updating its media list, which was "modified and reduced to a limited number of news outlets" over the summer, the result of staff transitions.
"Miss Raguso, among others, including the Bay City News Service, was not included in the updated media list, an oversight now being corrected," the DA's office wrote.
Read more about Pamela Price on The Scanner.
The assertion that The Scanner's exclusion was an oversight is questionable, however.
Price's office and staunch supporters have taken issue with The Scanner since it published an exposé in February that surfaced broad criticism of Price from many of her new employees, including veteran prosecutors and other longtime DA's office staff.
Since then, the office has declined all requests for interviews with The Scanner.
Throughout the year, the DA's office has repeatedly dropped The Scanner from its email list without warning or notice. Prior requests to be added back on were respected.
But, after Raguso fell off the list in August, the office was slow to respond.
Scanner inquiries on the subject, which began Oct. 20, went unanswered until Nov. 1, when Madyun said that the request was "under review." He provided no further information.
In mid-November, when The Scanner asked for a status update, Madyun said only that "the media list … remains under review."
At no point did the office say that access to press events hinged on its email announcement list.
DA's initial position was "clearly wrong and indefensible"
This weekend, David Loy, of the First Amendment Coalition, said The Scanner should not have been turned away from Wednesday's press event — whatever review may have been underway.
"Once you showed up, they should have acknowledged that and allowed you into the press conference," he told Raguso on Saturday. "It certainly makes me wonder if it was an oversight or not."
Initially, the DA's office said it refused entry to The Scanner due to prior "safety issues" in the building. Staff also said Raguso could not attend because she was not affiliated with a more established media company, one with a "management structure and editorial oversight."
Loy, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and SPJ NorCal, took issue with those criteria.
"At face value, your office’s position on attendance at press conferences violates the First Amendment because it unconstitutionally discriminates against segments of the press and interferes with editorial discretion," the groups wrote in a letter to the DA Pamela Price on Friday.
"There is no credible basis to suggest Ms. Raguso is not a bona fide journalist for an established publication that has a genuine reason to cover your office," they wrote. "It is difficult to imagine a journalist and publication with a more direct interest in attending your press conferences."
The ACLU of Northern California issued a brief statement on the subject on X (formerly Twitter) shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday.
The group said it rejected's Price's denial of a reporter's First Amendment rights but did not mention The Scanner by name.
"The government, including elected officials, cannot arbitrarily exclude specific reporters from public press conferences," the organization wrote. "The press plays a vital and important role in a thriving democracy."
Loy, of the First Amendment Coalition, said he had been somewhat surprised to see the weekend announcement from the DA's office.
"They pivoted so quickly after initially doubling down and defending their position," he said. "Then suddenly, 48 hours later, they reversed course."
"On the other hand," he added, "their original position was so clearly wrong and indefensible. I’m glad that they realized that. Better late than never, absolutely."
According to the DA's office statement Saturday afternoon, Price "has a long and distinguished career that includes defending the First Amendment … along with a proven track record of being committed to transparency."
The office said Price will now be "taking the lead on an effort to work with renowned First Amendment and media ethics experts in developing clear and transparent media credentials guidelines that balance the need for public safety alongside accommodating today’s journalists."
Loy confirmed that the First Amendment Coalition had been invited to participate in that process and said he looked forward to weighing in.
But he said his position that media credentials are unnecessary would not change: The government should not be in the business of defining who can report the news, he said.
"I'm very glad that the district attorney has done the right thing — under pressure, but nonetheless the right thing — by recognizing your First Amendment right to attend press conferences that are open to the media as a whole," Loy told Raguso. "It should not have gotten this far, but I’m glad that it’s worked out."
On Saturday, The Scanner asked the Alameda County DA's office whether members of the media who are not on its press email list would be allowed to attend upcoming press events and what credentials would be required of them.
There had been no response as of publication time.
The Scanner will continue to seek those answers and asked, in a California Public Records Act request earlier this week, for materials related to the DA's office media policies.
Under the Public Records Act, the DA's office has 10 calendar days in which to provide an initial response.
Related coverage in other outlets
Many news outlets picked up the story this week about The Scanner's fight for press freedom. KQED, which witnessed much of what happened Wednesday, was the first to do so.