The Trials of Obtaining a Press Pass

Who Qualifies, anyway?

Around the time of 2012 to 2014 there was much debate surrounding who qualifies as a journalist enough to obtain press credentials, namely getting a press pass.

Industry Bias

According to NiemanLab, in 2014 a survey of 1,300 journalists found that established news organizations that employed words-based journalists got better access than say activists, photographers, and freelancers. Whether it’s online journalism outlets, nontraditional forms of media, or nonprofit organizations, significant barriers were created for the accreditation process. It seems that the rules were written by mainstream journalism as to what qualifies for access to provide journalistic coverage. Suffice it to say, we have learned in our search for accreditation that a certain amount of privilege still exists. For example, here in Denmark, the main accreditation body for obtaining a press pass is Dansk Journalistforbund This privilige became prejudice to many up-and-coming journalists and photographers alike as they stated that in order to obtain press credentials one had to earn DKK 30,000 after expenses – three months in a row! To employed journalists and photographers, membership of their employing institution was enough to secure a press pass. This meant that the freelancers were being discriminated against. Now, whether you are employed or go freelance, the amount you now need to earn to obtain press credentials has significantly dropped: for permanent employees / freelancers, the minimum amount is DKK 18,380 per month. So this levels the playing field a little now but for a long time we were denied access to potential income from a lot of work sources. Thankfully, it seems that there is equal opportunity due to the reforms.

National Unions still the best alternative

But still, even with the reforms, Matt felt that there would be less restriction if he tried looking elsewhere. So he went to the Danish branch of the Foreign Press Association. From this alternative, he was able to obtain an international press pass that is valid worldwide and because he now has a legitimate press pass he is able to take advantage of all the opportunities he was hitherto denied, like being granted access to parliament to generate coverage there for example. Learning about others’ experiences we headed for the online photography forums to try to gauge what the sentiment was on the difficulties of obtaining a press press. The general consensus was that press passes were event-specific and that it depended on what areas the individual photographer was covering. Like, say, an Equestrian photographer could simply get access from the events press offices. But this is less universal than what we’ve been talking about so far. Others said that commissions from large newspapers and magazines was simply reason enough to gain access for coverage. But, there are a lot of counterfeit organizations out there that claim they can provide you with a press pass for a fee. This is something to be discerning about when considering how to obtain press credentials, which is why we’re writing this advice column. The safest way is to apply for membership of your national union of journalists, as in this case Matt has done. However, be warned, get your application in fast. It took the Dansk Journalistforbund five months to issue the press pass to Matt.


Professional Opinion

Digital Media Law Project director, Jeff Hermes, has some valid insights into what it’s like trying to obtain press credentials. He concurred that freelancers were more likely to be dismissed than employed journalists or photographers because the company you work for serves as a type of bright line test, meaning, that the reputation of the organization carries weight enough to back up your own reputation and lend to your credibility. But there’s another catch. Say if the government want a tightly controlled and biased spun event, they may be more likely to grant access to journalists of organizations that are easier to control than say a freelancer who has no such obligation.

Industry Standards

The benefits of having a press pass from a body such as the Foreign Press Association is that there is no question about the implementation of credentialing standards. Put simply, your accreditation is the industry standard of your participation in the field. It makes current and relevant all your past history, like having something like your CV in a nice laminated lanyard hanging around your neck. “Hey, I’m a true professional!” Or, as Matt says: “Get some card, print your name, a fancy job title, and add a picture, then make sure you get it laminated and hung around your neck; everyone loves laminated ID. It looks more important.” But photographers are generally more intrusive than regular journalists, based on the fact that they need to be up-close and personal and have a clear line of sight. This can make the process of gaining access even more tricky. As a photographer, it comes down to this: if you’re allowed into an event, what are you going to see that wasn’t expected to happen, especially if it can’t be controlled after-the-fact?


News and events are becoming reported in new ways and a better reflection of citizen journalism requires that the accreditation process be updated in order to become more universal.

Words by Elijah (Content Marketer).

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