The Associated Press and The Salt Lake Tribune are dropping out of a media legal consortium designed to ensure press access to information, saying recent battles have been "knee-jerk" and too costly.
Executives of the two news organizations also say they do not like the direction the consortium has taken under the control of the Society of Professional Journalists.But SPJ President Anne Burnett said she is working to persuade the two from abandoning the consortium.
"I think the services are vital and needed, especially in the state of Utah. It allows the media to speak with a united voice," she said.
The consortium was founded in the mid-1980s by the state's largest media organizations to defend First Amendment rights in a unified and cost-effective manner. It hires lawyers to pursue access cases rather than each news outlet hiring its own counsel.
The consortium's legal record includes a successful court fight for access to records in the December 1984 Wilberg Mine disaster and lobbying for passage of Utah's new Government Records Access and Management Act last year.
But Bill Beecham, AP's Utah-Idaho bureau chief and one of the consortium's founding members, said the organization is "running amok."
"I don't like the direction it's going. I don't think it's living up to the founding rules, what we had intended," Beecham said.
He said it appeared the SPJ had taken control over the consortium and was pursuing its own agenda, not that of the consortium members, and had told lawyers "to go after every legal issue out there."
Beecham said AP has received monthly consortium bills as high as $3,500 and has not been consulted about most legal actions.
In a letter to Burnett, Tribune Editor James E. Shelledy said some battles being waged by the consortium are "knee-jerk in nature, and, quite frankly, ones which I would not have hired counsel to fight."