How Do I Get a Press Pass?

press pool
The president's press pool is the holy grail for assignment photojournalists - by Pete Souza

This is another one of those questions I get frequently, usually when I’m in the media pool for some event, and usually from someone attending who wants to know how to get in without paying.

The answer is complicated. When I worked for several local papers and regional journals, it was easy. I’d pick one of several press cards and most of the event organizers already knew who I was. You may not have that luxury and I don’t have it anymore.

These days, when three-quarters of the people working in the business are freelancers, the situation is a lot more fluid and frequently really random. There are several organizations that will sell you press credentials and even supply cover letters for specific events. Most of those are not worth the paper they’re printed on, so save your money.

A web site that identifies you as a freelance journalist and has work samples, including photo galleries of other events you’ve covered, will work roughly 60 percent of the time and almost always for small, local events. After that it gets harder.

For the really big fish, like professional sporting events, facilities like NASA, and other events where everyone and their dog with a camera wants a press pass, a web site and business cards aren’t going to make it. My cousin is the media director for a professional sports team and had this to say on the subject:

“I think you will find that most teams don’t accept credential requests from freelancers, regardless of your affiliation with those companies. When we get requests from freelancers, we require the request to come from the organization for which you are working that day. We don’t allow photographers to come in shoot a game and then sell the photos to anyone who will buy them. “

So there you have it. Unless you’re being sent by an organization they recognize, you’re not going to get media credentials. Even then not everyone gets in; I’ve had organizations I was working for, names you’d recognize, turned down for events they wanted me to cover. There’s a lot of competition for media passes the higher up the food chain you go. Unless you’re being sent by Getty, AP, The New York Times, USA Today or other big names, getting in is not a lock.

But try anyway. Sometimes, despite all odds, you get lucky. It just depends on who is reviewing the requests and how they feel that day. I’ve put requests in, certain they would be turned down, only to have them go through. On the flip side there are venues I was certain of getting in that turn me down, sometimes rudely. You just never know.

There is one loophole in all this: Student journalists working for a school paper can almost always get in. Those battle-hardened media people like my cousin still have a soft spot for the plucky student journalists trying to get a story for the school paper.

What will really gripe you is being stuck outside the gate with the slush pile of freelancers, at a venue you’ve been trying to get in for months, and watching a group of college and high school kids packing a Nikon with a kit lens, whisked past the velvet ropes.

I had to cover the last shuttle launch from outside the gates while a bunch of 19 year old kids got to live blog it from the control room. That’s part of the business, just deal with it and move along.