Watering-down press credentials, or denying citizens news?

Recent articles and opinion pages have lambasted what many are calling the “watering-down of press credentials.” They claim that the more people that obtain press credentials, the less influential press credentials are to the legacy media. But, those who push to increase restrictions on press credentials are in denial of the massive decline in traditional journalism.

The statistics are staggering in the newspaper and journalism business. Every day reporters at media outlets are being laid off and resources are being cut. This is leaving entire communities without local news coverage and without the knowledge they need to be informed citizens.

Where this drastic decline is showing its repercussions is in city halls, courthouses and state capitols around the nation. For whatever reason, it seems that among the first beats to go at newspapers are state and local government reporters. With the decreasing media presence, there are fewer journalists working to keep the public aware of actions of their elected officials. There are fewer watchful eyes keeping bureaucrats and elected officials accountable.

And while there is no one covering the meetings and hearings, and poring over public records, there are people forming to take on these stories. However, these non-profit reporters, citizen journalists and bloggers are often being shown the cold shoulder and being denied credentials because they don’t have a business card from a newspaper or television station.

Denying press credentials to independent, non-profit and citizen journalists who are working to get stories is doing a disservice to every news consumer. Many of these journalists are filling the void that is left when a local newspaper cuts back or closes. They do the same job that the legacy media reporters are sometimes are doing it without either a paycheck or title.

And then there’s the argument that says that press credentials only allow journalists to attend press conferences and be exposed to what officials want reporters to hear, so why need them? That answer is simple, without credentials these non-profit and citizen journalists don’t have the opportunity to ask questions of their government officials or attend important briefings that no one else is reporting.

The solution is not to open the floodgates to anyone who claims to be from “media.” A standard system in every state can allow anyone to apply for credentials and be judged solely on the content they produce. This application process must not be cost prohibitive or require ridiculous, unfeasible standards. If the journalists can prove they are, in fact, practicing journalistic skills and producing news stories for the benefit of the public, they should be granted credentials.

The current news crisis is not the fault of the American people, so they should not be forced to be ignorant of governments because traditional media cut back. The government must be held accountable. This can be done by independent reporters pursuing the stories. Restricting credentials for people practicing journalistic endeavors hurts democracy and does a disservice to all those who care about their government.

Beyond that, it shuts off a source for important stories traditional media no longer can afford to pursue.

Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a journalism non-profit organization dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit FranklinCenterHQ.org.

About Jason Stverak

Jason Stverak is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing reporters, citizens and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support.


  1. says:

    Agreed. I left my legacy-media job in December 2007 to run our independent community news operation fulltime – and one of the first things we did was aggressively seek what is considered the gold-standard media credential around here, a Seattle Police Department-issued press pass. My husband and I (both with legacy media on our resume) were prepared for more pushback than we got – but we did get some, and our eventual success helped pave the way for other independent online journalists around here to get those credentials.

    Beyond “press passes,” what becomes an even more-cumbersome process of getting rolling, is figuring out how to get on the notification lists for every government official/agency that might make news in your area, send out an invite to an event, flag you to a hearing … Even though I came from legacy media, as a middle manager, I didn’t deal directly with most of these contacts, so I had to start from scratch – and there is no central place, for example, in the city of Seattle government, where you can say “Hi, I’m a new news organization, please get me on all the media lists” – you have to deal individually with agencies, some of which you might not know exist until they make news that shows up on an old-media broadcast or in an old-media publication – because they’ve been sending notices to those people for years, and no matter how much cred you have in your neighborhood, if the PIO for Agency X doesn’t know you live there, she/he wouldn’t know you exist! It’s been quite the journey. – Tracy @ W. Seattle Blog