No Whales, No Press Pass: The Story Of Journalists, PR People, And Access

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There’s an interesting debate going on over at Embargo Watch about a (very credentialed) freelance science reporter and his attempt to get a press pass to cover the annual meeting of the American Cetacean Society. (Cetaceans are whales, dolphins, etc.)

The freelancer claims that he was told by the executive director of the ACS that if he couldn’t “guarantee a positive story in the paper” he would not get a pass.

The ED counters that she was asking for coverage, not positive coverage, and the freelancer only wanted a free pass because he was profiling someone who wouldn’t even be there, and he wanted to talk with that subject’s colleagues.

Certainly a press pass is a privilege, not a right, though one that some journalists have come to treat as a right. But on the other hand, guaranteeing any coverage is a bit disingenuous: what would the headline be if the meeting was a dud? WHALES STILL IN OCEAN, MEETING PROVES? And while a story covering ACS-related work might not emerge immediately from the meeting, the freelancer would be cultivating sources and learning background material while he worked on his profile.

Still, it’s a sticky situtation, don’t you think? What’s the right thing to have done here?