Citizen Journalism 101: Securing Press Access

So you have a blog. And on this blog, you occasionally, or maybe even frequently, like to write about things besides your personal life. Things like current events. Or politics. Or the environment. Or technology. Or architecture. Or knitting. Or mystery novels. Or classic cars. Or cats.

The point is, you have a particular subject or subjects of interest that you like to write about, and it so happens that you’ve managed to attract some readers who like to read your writing on politics, or knitting, or cats. And it has occurred to you that perhaps some of your readers have even begun to consider you an authority on the subjects you most like to write about, and would appreciate your take on an upcoming event related to a subject you frequently cover. Something like a political campaign rally, or a knitter’s convention, or a cat show.

How do you get in to an event you want to write about?

Well, the simplest way, of course, is to try to get in the same most other people do: get a ticket. If the tickets are affordable (or free), and available, and if it’s an event that you’d probably want to attend whether or not you’d already planned to write about it, this may be an easy and logical option.

However, what if you can’t get tickets? What if they’re sold out, or too expensive?

What if an ordinary ticket won’t allow you the type of access you’d really like?

What if you’d like to take video of the event from the press area?

What if you’d like the opportunity to speak with the event organizers as they’re setting up, before the audience arrives?

What if you’d like to try to interview one of the event speakers?

In cases like these, you may want to apply for press credentials to an event. Increasingly, bloggers are gaining access to press credentials right alongside television and print reporters. But many bloggers, lacking journalistic training, are unsure of how to go about securing a press pass. Here is a quick, basic guide to seeking press access as a blogger:

Step One: Present Yourself as a Professional

Before you even think about asking for press credentials to an event, you need to think about how to present yourself to the event planners as someone who is qualified and competent to cover it as press.

Print some blog business cards. Make sure they carry the name of the website you plan to feature the event on. You don’t have to use your real name on your business cards if you don’t already use it on your site— people are accustomed these days to bloggers using pseudonyms— but be sure to provide a real email address and a phone number. (If you do choose to remain pseudonymous on your cards, keep in mind that at most major political events, and at any event where Secret Service security is necessary, you will be expected to register for credentials under your real name, and to show someone a photo ID with your real name on it once you get there.)

You can get business cards printed at a print shop, or print them yourself on the cheap using some basic layout software, your home printer and the printable business card sheets available at most office supply stores. You should print enough cards that you can not only show them to those you’re asking for credentials, but also give out plenty at the event itself.

Make yourself a press badge. This should feature the name of your blog, your name (or pseudonym) and a photo of yourself. If you want to, you can print your photo and your blog information together at home on business card paper the same way you would an ordinary business card, and just slip the finished card into a plastic badge holder on a pin or a lanyard. Your personal badge is separate from the credential badge event organizers may offer you at an event. It’s not absolutely necessary to have one, but it does make you look much more like a “real” reporter, and it will make getting through any security at an event much easier.

Write a short description of your blog for press request purposes. This description should mention the subjects your blog focuses on, your target audience, previous experience covering major events (if you have it), and any unique perspectives you might bring to your coverage (for example, if you happen to be a mother who writes about politics from a parent’s perspective, mention it). If you have a good Technorati rating, tout it. If you’ve been mentioned in the New York Times, say so. If neither one of those last two things are true, don’t worry about it. Just focus on the quality of your writing and the unique point of view you can offer.

Even if you never actually wind up sending the full written description to anyone, it’s a good exercise in preparation, because it will give you talking points you can use when asking for credentials in person or over the phone.

Step Two: Find Out Press Contact Information for the Event

If there is a website or printed brochure with information about the event you wish to attend, check for a media contact email, phone number, or contact form. If you cannot find any media contact information, try calling a general information number, or emailing a general information email address, and asking for media contact information.

If you can’t find any contact information for the event planners at all, try contacting the venue the event will be held at to ask whom you should call about press credentialing.

If no one at the venue can help you, think about whether you are already acquainted anyone who might be volunteering or working at the event you wish to cover. If you do know someone who will be involved, contact them, explain that you’d like to attend the event as press, and ask whether they know the name of the person you should contact with a question about press passes.

Step Three: Ask for Credentials

Once you’d found out whom you need to ask for press credentials, make a phone call or write an email. Ask politely, but confidently. Don’t say “I’m only a blogger so I don’t know if you’ll let me in, but . . . ” or “I don’t know what I’m doing because I’ve never done this before.” Just give your blog name and URL, and the written description you’ve made of your blog, if appropriate. Explain what you want to write about, and ask whether any press credentials will be available.

You might be turned down. But don’t let a rejection discourage you from trying again in the future. More and more, event planners are realizing the value of giving bloggers equal access to major media events. And you never know whether you will be granted press access until you try.

Next week: The basics of covering an event as press once you’ve gained access.

This post written by Guild member Jaelithe, who also writes at The State of Discontent and MOMocrats.com.

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