By: Steve Outing

As online news jobs are being created and filled -- at newly created online-only news organizations as well as in new media divisions of traditional print and broadcast media -- the ranks of journalism are swelling. While that's great news, there's a down side that's starting to surface: Some of the recipients of journalists' coverage feel overwhelmed by the number of reporters asking for credentials, so they are simply denying access to online journalists. Others are not knowledgeable about online media, and are denying press credentials because they have not yet set policies that include Internet news services as among eligible media.

This phenomenon popped up recently when the National Collegiate Athletic Association denied online journalists press credentials to cover its Final Four men's and women's championship tournaments, citing lack of space for all the reporters who wanted to cover the events. (I wrote a column about this issue last week.) But the credentials issue is not limited to an isolated incident with the NCAA. Numerous online journalists are reporting problems with performing their duties because some organizations and companies do not yet consider them to be on a par with journalists from "old" media.

SPJ takes a look

The Society of Professional Journalists has formed a task force to look into the problem, and try to trouble-shoot for online reporters who are having access problems because of their affiliation.

The SPJ Task Force on Online Journalism and New Technologies, formed last fall, is chaired by Staci Kramer, a St. Louis, Missouri-based freelance writer who among other things has covered the media industry for Editor & Publisher magazine. As a freelancer herself, Kramer says that throughout her career she has at times had problems getting the kind of access that staff reporters for traditional news organizations often enjoy. The plight of today's online journalist shares some similarities.

Kramer has recently been fielding complaints from journalists working for online news organizations. The task force is trying to get a handle on what type of problems online journalists are encountering, then work with offending organizations to try and educate them.

Kramer cites one example of a reporter for an online news organization that wanted to get movie press kits from a major U.S. film studio. The reporter was told by the marketing department in New York that the request could not be honored -- as it would have for a newspaper, magazine or broadcast reporter -- and that the reporter should go to the studio's Web site for information.

The problem with that, of course, is that the studio's Web site is designed for the general public, and does not contain information that is useful to the working press. Press kits include legal information about what a journalist is entitled to do with things like movie trailers (or previews), says Kramer, so the online journalist is missing out on critical information.

In that case, Kramer looked at other studios and found a smaller movie company that had created a special Web site for the press. That company's media relations department determines if an inquiring online journalist works for a legitimate media organization, then gives them a password to access a press Web site.

Kramer reported the smaller studio's approach to the marketing executive at the large studio and requested that the anti-online policy be changed. To date, she hasn't heard if the big studio will change its policy.

The actions of such companies typically aren't vindictive, says Kramer, but often are based on ignorance of the online medium. For example, the studio's marketing executive, who works on the East Coast, had never seen the studio's Web site (produced on the West Coast) because the East Coast office didn't have Internet access yet.

Be a sport

Online sports writers also have reported having trouble getting media guides from some teams and league offices, and occasionally have been denied press credentials to cover games. The situation is in flux, with no real clear trend. One sports team may give online journalists equal treatment with those of other media, while another seems to discriminate against online news services.

Kramer says that's likely to take a while to resolve, because different organizations control press access to different events. A pro sports team may credential online reporters during the regular season, but then when championship season rolls around, the league office calls the shots -- and might deny credentials to online journalists. That was the case with the NCAA; most online sports reporters were able to cover regular-season games of their home teams, then were denied credentials for the championship by the league.

Kramer also points out that some sports organizations are very conservative in giving out any press credentials, particularly to freelancers. The addition of online journalists lining up for credentials is not something that some organizations want to see. All journalists are likely to meet resistance from such organizations, not just online reporters.

Some sports leagues are wising up to the issue of online credentials. The Professional Golfers Association (PGA), for example, has added an "Internet Service Regulations" section to its 1997 PGA Tour Official Media Guide. It specifies that media credentials will be issued only to personnel on assignment from "recognized golf Internet sites, as determined by PGA Tour in its sole discretion."

In what strikes me as an odd stance, the PGA says that a golf writer who works for multiple interests (such as a golf magazine and an Internet site) must apply for separate credentials. The magazine writer using credentials issued to the magazine is not allowed, under PGA rules, to use any information gathered at a PGA event for a Web site unless he has separate online credentials issued. The PGA also demands that credentialed reporters not post scoring information from a PGA golf event any sooner than 30 minutes after the actual occurrence of the shots.

Seth Effron, executive editor of, which operates an online-only sports news service, lauds the PGA for being among the first to set a specific online media policy. "The PGA Tour has taken an important first step in recognizing the legitimacy of online coverage," he says.

Kramer says it's not surprising that credentialing is among the first major issues to arise regarding online journalism, and it's not likely to go away soon. "This affects practically the way we work as journalists," she says. Without access from organizations in the worlds of sports, entertainment and politics, reporters can't do their jobs. For freelancers, in particular, such access and credentialing problems can take money away from them.

The SPJ task force will continue to solicit input from online journalists who are experiencing access or credentialing problems. In its effort to head off problems, the group plans to contact troublesome organizations to try to negotiate online-friendly access policies. It also plans to work with the NCAA to try and resolve the online reporting credentials issue before the next championships.

Contacts: Staci Kramer,
Seth Effron,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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