The Alaska Landmine Lawsuit: Small Media vs. Alaska Governor

The Alaska Landmine lawsuit
An Alaskan website owner had to sue to get guaranteed access to the governor’s press events. (Image by: Gillfoto CC by 4.0)

The Alaska Landmine lawsuit is a reminder that you don’t have to be, nor should you need to be, a media powerhouse to access public officials.

Jeff Landfield, owner of The Alaska Landmine, reeled in a $65,000 settlement after suing Alaska’s Governor for excluding him from press conferences.

Landfield said he was tired of struggling to get access to Governor Mike Dunlevy’s events, and being excluded was a violation of his constitutional rights.

Roots of The Alaska Landmine Lawsuit

The Alaska Landmine focuses on Alaskan news topics. By December 2020,  Landfield had already been thinking about taking legal action against the Dunlevy administration for a while, according to Alaska Public Media.

But his frustration really boiled over after a Q & A session during a news conference.

Since he wasn’t invited, Landfield already had to take the extra steps of getting the call-in access details from other reporters.

Then, when he attempted to ask a question during Q &A, the governor’s spokesperson, Jeff Turner, asked who was speaking.

Landfield identified himself, and Turner told him “sorry,” but the comment session was closing.

“I just got really kind of pissed off that I couldn’t ask a question and I was treated like that,” Landfield said.

“I’m treated like a second class or second-tier person,” he added.

So, Landfield had an attorney send the governor’s office a letter requesting that he get full access to press conferences and get the same notice as other media.

When that didn’t work, Landfield sued.

The Alaska Landmine lawsuit named Dunlevy, Turner, and chief of staff Ben Stevens.

In January 2021, a federal judge issued an injunction requiring the governor to invite Landfield to news conferences.

Alaska appealed that injunction.

But, Tuesday the parties unveiled an agreement that grants Landfield access to the governor’s press conferences and other events where the media is invited.

The agreement also said the Governor’s Office will treat Landfield like other members of the media.

Dunlevy’s office has the right to adopt new methods of issuing media invites but whatever they come up with must include Landfield.

And these access agreements are only guaranteed to Landfield and aren’t automatically extended to anyone else associated with The Alaska Landmine.

Dunlevy’s office also agreed to pay $65,000, all of which will go to paying Landfield’s attorneys.

Both sides have agreed to dismiss The Alaska Landmine lawsuit.

And, according to the agreement, neither party admits wrongdoing, neither is supposed to consider the outcome to for or against anybody, and they’re supposed to work together to issue a joint public statement touting the “amicable nature” of the settlement.

Although they can’t say it, clearly, from the outside, this is a win for Landfield who walks away with what he wanted– access to media events.

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A Win for Small Media

The outcome of The Alaska Landmine lawsuit is also a win for small and freelance media who, as Landfield said, are too often treated like they’re second-class.

Elected officials, like Dunlevy, need to be have some of their gas released so they can come back down to reality.

They hold tax-funded positions. They’re not celebrities, they’re public servants.

And they’re just as accountable to a blogger’s audience as they are to a major newspaper’s audience.

Press access shouldn’t be limited to media elites, but too often it is.

The media landscape has changed. The public now gets its news and information from a wide range of sources, not just the old guard, deep pocket media organizations.

Government officials now realize they need to embrace newer forms of communication, like social media, text messaging, and virtual town halls..

So, they also need to get used to the idea of being accessible to a wider range of content providers.

Given the technology available, there’s no reason that any media interest, regardless of credentials, shouldn’t at the very least be able to receive notifications of events and online or telephone access.

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