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Access Denied: GRIID not allow to attend the 2018 West MI Policy Forum Conference

September 23, 2018

Ever since their inaugural conference in 2008, I have attended and reported on every West Michigan Policy Forum conference. I had every intention of reporting from the 2018 West Michigan Policy Forum conference, but I was denied access as a media person from attending.

What follows in my e-mail correspondence with people involved in the conference.

As early as July 24, I had sent an e-mail to Omar Cuevas, who works for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and is the VP of Sales and Marketing. Cuevas was one of the people listed as contacts for the 2018 West Michigan Policy Forum conference.

I asked is the conference was open to news media and if I could get a media pass for the day, as I had done for all their previous conferences held since 2008. The GR Chamber of Commerce contact said, I’m going to connect you to the PR firm handling this event and have them follow up with you.” The PR firm responsible for all promotions and media was SeyferthPR. SeyferthPR lists among its clients, Amway, RDV Corp., Talent 2015, Rockford Construction, Autocam, Bissell, Perrigo, SIBSCO and Huntington Bank, all of which are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

On July 30th, I asked if Omar was going to give them my contact info or if he could share their contact info with me? He responded by saying, “I forwarded your email to Seyferth PR.”

I did not hear back on this matter, so on August 21st I sent the following e-mail, “I still haven’t heard from the folks at Seyferth PR about media access to the Sept. 24 Policy Forum. Can you give me an e-mail of someone over there I could speak with?” He replied by saying, “I apologize Jeff. I will reach out to them.”

Another three weeks went by, so I sent Omar another e-mail on Wednesday, September 12, stating, “Omar, still haven’t heard anything. Is there someone I can contact directly about obtaining a media pass for the WMPF Summit on the 24th? This time Mr. Cuevas sent me the following reply on Friday, September 14, saying “I’m sorry for the delay. I have passed on all of your messages to Seyferth PR. I am going to find out today.”

That same day, I received the following e-mail from Michael Zalewski who is Senior Counsel for SeyferthPR. He wrote the following:

Jeff, sorry I had not got back to you sooner regarding media pass request. You are certainly welcome to purchase a ticket to WMPF. Also please note, as shared with all other media, by purchasing a ticket to event you are able to attend ECON luncheon, which is part of the conference.

As a point of clarification, I responded by asking, Michael, are you telling me that this event is not open to the media?” Zalewski’s response was, “Again, you are certainly welcome to purchase a ticket to WMPF. Also please note, as shared with all other media, by purchasing a ticket to event you are able to attend ECON luncheon, which is part of the conference.” I responded to this non-answer with, “I ask this because in past years they were providing passes for reporters. My budget prohibits me from buying a ticket. You are no longer giving media access to this event?”

At this point I also contacted someone I know who writes for MiBiz and asked if they were planning on attending and if they had to purchase tickets to the West Michigan Policy Forum conference. The journalist I know from MiBiz said that he wasn’t sure if he was attending, but someone with MiBiz would be attending and NO, they did not have to purchase a ticket.

Mr. Zalweski did not respond to the previous e-mail I had send, so I sent him another e-mail stating, “I just checked with folks I know over at MiBiz and they are not required to purchase a ticket to come and report on the event. Since that is the case, I will be coming, as I have a right to be there as a reporter.”

Zalweski’s response was prompt this time and he stated, “Well first this is a by invite only event it’s not a public event. However this is being hosted by the Chamber of Commerce so let me get back to them on your request.” First, there was nothing on the WMPF conference registration that suggested this was an invite only event. Second, why had he not said that up front? Third, this has never been an issue in previous conferences held by the WMPF. Lastly, if SeyferthPR was dealing with all media inquiries, why was Mr. Zalweski now checking with the GR Chamber of Commerce about my request?

On Thursday, September 20th the Senior Counsel for SeyferthPR repled:

Based on WMPF criteria for media passes to event, your request for media credentials has been denied . Please note this is a private, by-invitation only event and the West Michigan Policy Forum reserves the right to issue or deny media credentials.

I replied immediately, stating, “Seems rather arbitrary. So why have i been given a media pass for all of the previous WMPF conferences and not this one?” Mr. Zalweski did not respond to this last e-mail.

In many ways this is completely understandable, since I have been highly critical of the West Michigan Policy Forum conferences and their role in the Grand Rapids Power Structure

It is also possible that since I had written a critical piece about the Gr Chamber of Commerce on September 19th, the day before Mr. Zalweski’s last e-mail, that that could have played into their decision to deny me a media pass. 

However, despite my criticisms of both the West Michigan Policy Forum and the GR Chamber of Commerce, what would they possibly have to fear by denying me a media pass? This blog is not read by tens of thousands of people and is fairly insignificant in the local media landscape of commercial media, which is almost uniformly business-friendly.

It is unfortunate, especially considering that the commercial media outlets will not provide substantial analysis of what takes place at the conference on September 24, a conference which is making a neoliberal education model their platform for state policy changes in Michigan for the rest of this year and 2019.

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