‘Who Gets a Press Pass?’: 5 Media Credentialing Challenges for Student Journalists

How tough is it for student journalists to gain access to on and off campus events? When have they been denied a press pass or been granted one only after being subjected to uber-amounts of confusion or consternation about their student status? And how often do they simply give up before they have begun, deciding to not even ask for credentials because they’re flummoxed, intimidated or turned off by the process?

A high-profile new study of more than 1,300 journalists focused on “Media Credentialing Practices in the United States” had the potential to answer at least some of those questions. Alas, as Beatriz Costa-Lima reports for the Student Press Law Center, the otherwise fascinating survey does not include college journalists in the mix. Apparently, some students (unclear whether college or also younger) took part in the survey but not enough — so they were bumped to the “contributors or unpaid independent journalists” categories. Blah. Shrug. Grr.

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If they did have a category of their own, what might be the main media credentialing roadblocks for student journalists extraordinaire? After taking part in and later reading Costa-Lima’s SPLC write-up, five factors stood out to me.

1) The Full-Time Employee Factor

According to Costa-Lima, “In many cases, organizations giving out press credentials use the status of full-time employment as an way to determine who is or isn’t a journalist, [Jeff Hermes, lead author of the survey and director of the Digital Media Law Project] said. ‘Now that doesn’t mean that those standards are the best possible standards,’ Hermes said. ‘To the contrary, a standard which relies on employment tends to disregard the important news gathering functions of other people in the journalism community.'”

2) The Age Factor

As I tell Costa-Lima (first part paraphrased), “Organizations’ reluctance to give student journalists the same accessibility as mainstream journalists stems from an underlying ignorance of what student journalists are capable of and also a distrust that younger reporters can properly handle hard issues, Reimold said. ‘It’s four words in question form: Who are these kids?’ Reimold said. ‘Then, typically there’s the follow up: Who do they think they are?'”

3) The Name Recognition Factor

With the exception of student media operating at the largest and most elite colleges and universities nationwide, most outlets have tiny audience slices and almost zero name recognition beyond their campuses. So student staffers from those outlets applying for press passes — especially for non-local events — might as well be from Neptune in the eyes of the event organizers or PR teams. One repeated anecdote I’ve heard from a number of current and former student journalists involves the reporter and photographer needing to actually pull out and page through an actual issue or two of their publication (in print or on their phones) while explaining to someone that they are not just random undergrads looking to crash a shindig.

4) The Revenge Factor

Student media launch investigations, dive into tough subject matter and at times respectfully criticize factions of their college or university. Cue tension, and at times retribution. The most high-profile recent example played out early this past semester. The Michigan Daily at the University of Michigan broke a big story involving a former Wolverines football player’s role in a 2009 sexual assault. The Daily was subsequently not invited to a press conference with head football coach Brady Hoke addressing the assault fallout. Coincidence? I highly doubt it. (See a few other revenge examples in the related links section below.)

5) The Discombobulating Factor

1This is a problem encompassing both the student and professional ranks. Bottom line, there is no overarching media credentialing system in place, leaving organizations and officials wiggle room to decide for themselves who meets the standard of being press-pass-worthy. As Jonathan Peters writes for Columbia Journalism Review, “Nationwide, credentialing practices are incoherent. Journalists sometimes need greater access to news sources than the First Amendment provides, and credentials are supposed to fill that gap — to allow certain people to engage in newsgathering where the general public can’t. But the disjointed way in which credentials are issued, by government officials or journalists acting in their stead, can create actual or apparent barriers to entry for news outlets, and — insofar as the incoherence causes delays or denials of access—it can deprive a journalist or photographer of the chance to witness and document a major event.”

With all this written, it is important to note that by all accounts students are regularly granted media credentials to many events without a problem. But this new study of professional journos found one in five had been denied a press pass at some point within the past five years. That’s 20 percent, and those are just the pros.

Now, what about the students?

Related

Should Student Journalists Carry Press Passes?

After Big Football Scoop, Michigan Daily Not Invited to Press Conference with Head Coach

Stony Brook Student Magazine’s Funny Football Tweets Lead to Censorship Threat

Kentucky Restricts Student Newspaper Access to Basketball Team in Response to Report About Walk-Ons

Police: Lantern Staffer Who Covered Cow Escape Had Fraudulent Press Credentials

Nationwide, credentialing practices are incoherent. Journalists sometimes need greater access to news sources than the First Amendment provides, and credentials are supposed to fill that gap—to allow certain people to engage in newsgathering where the general public can’t. But the disjointed way in which credentials are issued, by government officials or journalists acting in their stead, can create actual or apparent barriers to entry for news outlets, and—insofar as the incoherence causes delays or denials of access—it can deprive a journalist or photographer of the chance to witness and document a major event. – See more at: http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/survey_one_in_five_journalists_has_had_credential_request_denied.php#sthash.3zwejjO8.dpuf

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