Who Gets a Press Pass?

Who qualifies as a journalist? That line becomes more blurry by the day as freelance reporters and bloggers take on roles once reserved for traditional correspondents at well-recognized news outlets.

One traditional standard measurement has been the media credential or, less formally, the press pass. Your company may not be in the business of deciding who’s a reporter and who’s not, at least on an official basis. Still, some organizations may find it helpful to rely on credentials from such bodies as the Congressional press galleries, federal agencies, and local police departments when they organize their media lists and decide who gains entrée into their news conferences.

In an effort to determine who merits credentialing, two Harvard outfits—the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy; and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society—recently issued a report titled, “Who Gets a Press Pass? Media Credentialing Practices in the United States.”

Female CorrespondentsNot all that long ago, it was pretty clear who received those passes that offered access to the Congressional press galleries and beyond the police tape. Do you work for The New York Times? You’re in. A local television news department? Fine. A venerable trade publication? You bet. However, today’s media world is not so black and white (may my newspaper friends forgive the pun).

The Harvard study comments upon the conundrum and provides a clear picture of the current state of affairs. It is, sadly, short on suggestions for improvement. That may be due to the nettlesome nature of the problem.

You are likely in the market for practical solutions, not theory, so here are some suggestions that your organization may find helpful as you seek to clarify who qualifies as a reporter when it comes to your issues (in the interest of clarity, these ideas are mine, not Harvard’s):

  • Works full-time for a bona fide news outlet
  • Credentialed by a federal, state, or local government body
  • Claims experience as a freelance reporter, and has recent clips to back up that assertion
  • Performs no work on the other side of the fence as a public affairs or communications consultant (a clear conflict of interest that could land your organization in hot water)
  • Is not affiliated with an advocacy group, which could shade their coverage
  • Does not try to trick you with a bogus press pass they bought from a fly-by-night outfit

You may opt to use one or more of these qualifications when making your decisions. There is no single right answer, so I suggest you discuss with colleagues and share comments here when seeking deeper insights.

This dilemma is not going to get any easier to solve in the years ahead. The continuing downward spiral of traditional media combined with the proliferation of independent outlets (some legitimate news sources, others mere personal mouthpieces) is likely to endure. All of which means that your decisions on who gets to cover your organization’s news are likely to get even stickier.

Let’s talk solutions. What ideas have you found useful in your communications shop when determining who qualifies as a journalist?



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