Rafael Martínez Alequin published the Brooklyn Free Press, a tabloid community newspaper that ran for almost two decades before he took it online in 2003 and called it The New York City Free Press.

David Wallis published a book and founded www.featurewell.com, an online syndication service that provides news to more than 1,500 magazines throughout the world.

And Ralph E. Smith is publisher of the Guardian Chronicle, a website that targets black law enforcement workers. He is also a public information officer for the New York City Corrections Department.

The three men were denied press credentials from the New York City Police Department because they do not work for a “legitimate news organization”. Last week, the three men sued the police department.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, asserts that the three men were denied press credentials in 2007 “with little explanation or opportunity for appeal,” and that the system for issuing press credentials is “inconsistent and constitutionally flawed.”

The lawsuit is the latest debate between the quest for legitimacy from the New Media, which is essentially anything published in print or online that is not affiliated with a major corporate news entity, and the Old Media, a conglomeration of corporations that has reluctantly acknowledged the New Media’s existence.

The last time the debate arose was in the wake of the mass arrests at the Republican National Convention in September, in which Minneapolis officials tried to determine which journalists would be entitled to have their charges dropped. It basically boiled down to the clout of the organization backing them.

But Freedom of the Press, which is part of the First Amendment, does not differentiate between the corporate media and independent journalists like myself (not that I was not once part of the corporate media).

In this day and age of media conglomeration and downsizing, it is only natural to expect a rise of independent media sources, such as Photography is Not a Crime. And I’ll put my journalistic skills and experience against any corporate media reporter any day of the week.

Rather than clarify the issue on Freedom of the Press, The New York Times kicks off its article on the NYPD lawsuit by asking the following question:

“In the ever-shifting media landscape of 2008, who, exactly, is a journalist?”

Being the legitimate news organization that it is, The New York Times should instead ask: “Just whom exactly determines who is a journalist?” Because in this case, it is the New York City Police Department.

And if we’re going to allow our local police departments to determine who qualifies as legitimate media, then we’ve already lost the concept of the Fourth Estate. Then we’ve already given up on Freedom of the Press.

And we might as well kiss the First Amendment goodbye.