us supreme court buildingToday, SCOTUSblog, a popular blog that reports on the Supreme Court, appealed a denial of its press credentials from the U.S. Senate Press Gallery. Without that credential, SCOTUSblog argues that it would not be able to effectively report on topics of importance to its audience. You can read the live blog of the appeal on the SCOTUSblog here.

Why did SCOTUSblog, which has won numerous awards, including a Peabody Award, not qualify for press credentials with the Senate? It’s a highly regarded blog with Supreme Court reporting done by legendary journalist Lyle Denniston. In fact, it’s Denniston’s press credentials through WBUR in Boston (for which he still writes) that gives SCOTUSblog access to the Supreme Court press room and special in-court seating area. How could such a well-regarded site with one of the most respected Supreme Court journalists in history (at 83-years old, Denniston has been covering the U.S. Supreme Court for 56 years) not qualify for press credentials?

One of the best explanations of what happened was published on the Columbia Journalism Review blog. Written by Jonathan Peters, this is the article to read to fully understand what is going on. To make a long story short, here are the problems that SCOTUSblog is facing:

Problem 1: Separation of the Blog from the Business

SCOTUSblog was started by Tom Goldstein in 2002 as a marketing tool for his law firm. Tom litigates cases in front of the Supreme Court as does his wife, Amy Howe, who also worked for the law firm. Last year, Howe left the law firm to become the full-time editor for SCOTUSblog. Furthermore, within the past two years, the blog has been completely separated from the law firm with a variety of firewalls. It is operated as a completely separate business from the law firm and is funded completely separately from the law firm. However, the committee that grants the press credentials to the Senate questioned the separation of the blog from the business.

Problem 2: Source of the Money

SCOTUSblog was originally funded through the law firm’s revenues. Today, the blog is funded entirely through a sponsorship from Bloomberg Law. However, that appears to be the only source of income, and the contract is due to end soon. The committee that grants the press credentials to the Senate questioned that the blog is currently and will be for the foreseeable future funded entirely by advertisers and not in any way by the law firm.

The Lesson for Authoritative Content Publishers

When Goldstein started SCOTUSblog as a marketing tool for his law firm, it’s doubtful that he realized how popular it would become. For many years, the content of the blog was tied very closely to the law firm, but when it was discovered that the relationship between the law firm and the blog would keep the blog from growing further, firewalls were constructed. However, the press credentialing committee still doesn’t believe that the firm and blog operate independently of one another in all regards. Just because the financial statements show a separation doesn’t mean that the firm isn’t influencing the blog in some way and vice versa.

Whether the press credentialing committee is right or wrong is up for debate in legal and journalism circles, but one thing is certain. If you own a blog that is growing in popularity and has an affiliation with your business, consider how further growth of your business, further growth of your blog, and your future needs to ensure the blog can keep growing (e.g., press credentialing) relate to one another. You might want to separate the blog from the business sooner rather than later.

Image: Chris Phan