Student journalists not part of ‘working press’ barred from Ill. gubernatorial candidate’s press conference on medical marijuana

ILLINOIS — A group of student journalists and their professor were running late to a gubernatorial candidate’s press conference Tuesday. When they arrived to cover the event, they were denied access not because of their tardiness, but because they weren’t deemed “professionals.”

A press representative for Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor, told the Columbia College students and their professor, Curtis Lawrence, that the press conference on medical marijuana was open only to the “working press.” Rauner, who is running against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, would not talk to the students, either.

“When he came out of the meeting I just stop him and I ask him if he can talk to the students,” Lawrence said. “He didn’t look at us … no eye contact, no nothing and was just whisked down the hallway.”

Lawrence teaches a course called Covering Politics at the college, where he takes students to cover live events during class time whenever the opportunity is possible. While he recognizes that this event was not public, Lawrence said his students have always been able to cover several events and meetings in the city, including events with the current governor.

“We often cover city council meetings, city committee meetings and all kinds of other events at the state, city and county level, too,” he said. “As you know here in Chicago, we have a pretty active county government system, which is ripe with news.”

Lawrence said his students were disappointed with the outcome of the press conference, but he said he hopes they will take this as a learning experience about public versus private events, when to fight for their rights and how to evaluate the openness of a candidate.

When the next event for Rauner comes along, Lawrence said he plans to take his students again if they have the opportunity to go. He’ll also request access prior to the event, based on their most recent encounter.

“It’s not personal with us,” Lawrence said. “I teach them that, too, that their job is to get news to the public, so definitely we would attempt to cover him again. We want both sides of this campaign to be heard.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Michael Bragg by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.