Media Credentials: Crossing the Line
September 4, 2014  //  By:   //  Investigative Reports  //  No Comment

(Story by Carol Thompson) The rise in citizen journalists and bloggers has resulted in a wave of controversy over the coveted press pass and media credentials.

Traditionally, those working in the mainstream media receive a press pass from their employer containing their name and photograph, the name of the media organization and contact person, as well as certification that the employee is an authorized representative of said media organization.

Media credentials go a bit further and vary from agency to agency. Some may require a complete background check, others may require only a home address, social security number and a photocopy of a driver’s license, and almost all require the credentialed person be a verifiable member of the mainstream media.

Press credentials can get a reporter, photographer, or photojournalists into everything from concerts and major league baseball to the White House and can allow crossing the yellow police tape that seals off the area of a crime or accident scene. Credentials are often needed for entering private space and government functions that are not considered public.

While press credentialing is most often a non-issue for media professionals, it is a growing concern for citizen journalists, bloggers, and even non-profit news organizations.

Some organizations won’t consider issuing credentials to bloggers and non-profits and others will give consideration to those meeting certain criteria.

The Senate Press Galleries, for example, bars non-profit news organizations from membership. It requires that member news organizations be chiefly supported through advertising and subscriber revenue, essentially eliminating non-profits because they are primarily supported through donations.

The American Bar Association, however, will consider bloggers and citizen journalists who can authenticate their status.
According to the ABA website, “Because of the unique nature of this event, bloggers or other citizen-journalists must represent well-established, law-related or legal technology-related outlets as determined by ABA Media Relations staff.”

A credentialed reporter can sometimes cross police lines and have access to interviews with those close to the crime or accident. Non-credentialed reporters do so at their own risk.

There has been a growing number of arrests involving citizen bloggers and citizen journalists, and it has spurred a wide national debate over who should qualify for privileged access.

While professional journalists are educated in the ethics of the field and are aware of what they can and cannot do, bloggers and citizen journalists with no journalism education or experience can find themselves tangled in lawsuits or tossed in jail.

The high-profile “Constitutional Clayton” blogger case is an example of the ethical line being crossed.

Several months ago Madison, Mississippi Police arrested Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl, on a charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Kelly is accused of allegedly sneaking into St. Catherine’s Village in Madison, where Rose Cochran, wife of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, has resided since 2000, suffering from progressive dementia.

Kelly, a political blogger, posted a video on the Internet that included a picture of Rose Cochran.

Three others were also arrested in connection with the case.

The case, and others like it, have presented a new problem for the “new media” and the weight of government transparency against breaking the law to get a story.

A 2014 study from the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Journalist’s Resource Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, “Who Gets a Press Pass? Media Credentialing Practices in the United States,” performed a quantitative examination of media credentialing in the United States. It surveyed the experience of more than 1,300 newsgatherers of various kinds throughout the country in their efforts to obtain media credentials from different types of credentialing organizations from 2008 to 2013.

According to the survey results, one out of every five respondents who applied for a credential was denied by a credentialing organization at least once. Certain categories of applicants are more likely to be denied than others: freelance journalists were significantly less likely to receive media credentials than employed journalists. Photographers were more likely to be denied than non-photographers. Respondents who identified themselves as activists were more likely to be denied than those respondents who did not.

A Google search will return many websites offering press passes and credentials for a fee. Be wary of these offers as chances are they won’t be accepted. And keep in mind that many events require press credentialing directly from the government agency or organization itself and not from the news agency or any online organizations.

Interested to read about lawyers allegedly behaving badly? Here you go.

(Image: Flickr | albumen)

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