Local blogger Melissa Westbrook, who writes for the blog Save Seattle Schools, was barred from asking questions during a press conference of the Seattle School Board yesterday, right before they approved the new teachers' contract.

Beforehand, when Westbrook called up the Seattle Public Schools Communications Dept. to ask if she could be on the press list, they told her that she could attend, but couldn't ask questions. Westbrook went anyway, thinking that if other bloggers asked questions, she would too. But reached by phone, Westbrook said that SPS refused to provide a press pass because she was not a "real journalist" and her blogs were more commentary than reporting.

So I asked SPS if they had any set standards for press conferences. District spokesperson Teresa Wippel said the event was for media organizations that "provide unbiased coverage and subscribe to journalistic ethics." By that, she means "the types of practices outlined in the Code of Ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists," Wippel said. "It is our opinion that Ms. Westbrook’s blog does not fit into that category."

Does that mean the Stranger—which is quite clear about its opinions and makes no attempt to provide "unbiased coverage"—can't ask questions? Or are they simply allergic to Westbrook, who asks questions that the District doesn't want to answer? "It's not like we are shunning off information to people who are not members of the press," Wippel said. "Westbrook has lots of different ways to ask questions to the board." As for the Stranger, Wippel said we could ask questions because we were a news organization that provides opinion as well as news.

Westbrook—who often takes positions that The Stranger disagrees with—admits that her blogs are sometimes critical of the school district. But she argued that Mayor Mike McGinn's office has always let her attend press events as a citizen journalist. "I got into the convention for Arne Duncan, and the American Federation of Teachers even gave me a press pass," she said.

Westbrook is part of Committee for Responsible Education Spending, which is campaigning against the $48.2 million schools levy. About $19 million from the levy would fund parts of the new teacher evaluation system included in the contract. "I was going to ask a valid question about how they would afford the teacher raises in the contract if the tax fails," Westbrook said. "News gathering is evolving and SPS might have to evolve at some point."