Press pass

A press pass (alternately referred to as a journalist pass or a press card) grants some type of special privilege to journalists. Some cards have recognized legal status, others merely indicate that the bearer is a practicing journalist. The nature of the benefits is determined by the type of issuing agency, of which there are three major categories: news organizations, law-enforcement agencies, and event organizers (usually for a specific single affair like a corporate press conference). Each type of card grants different authorizations, thus it is often necessary or desirable for reporters to hold multiple press passes simultaneously.

Law-enforcement cards

Police departments at a city, county, or state/provincial level may issue press passes. Such passes allow the bearer to cross police or fire lines to report breaking news, or grant access to crime scenes or other restricted areas -– though admission may be denied if it would interfere with the duties of emergency personnel.

Because of the exceptional dispensation endowed by police press passes, they are issued with discretion –- some jurisdictions require an in-person interview with all prospective applicants. Generally, only reporters who cover breaking news are eligible; other journalists (feature writers, photographers, editors and editorialists, freelance writers, and bloggers) are not.

Police-issued passes do not grant access to government press conferences or any other such privileges: they are only recognized by emergency response personnel, and only valid within the jurisdiction of the issuing agencies.

Parking permits

Police parking permits, issued in some jurisdictions, exempt news vehicles from certain parking restrictions while on the job. They may be offered to any news-gathering organization that covers breaking news for use in company vehicles employed by full-time reporters, photographers, and camera operators. Often, these permits are only granted to journalists who already carry a police press card.

When conspicuously displayed, these permits may allow the bearer to park in restricted ‘resident-only’ parking zones, and may exempt him or her from parking-meter costs. These privileges apply only for the duration of breaking-news coverage, and do not nullify all parking restrictions: red zones, fire hydrants, crosswalks, bus zones, disabled parking zones or access ramps, commercial loading zones, taxi cab zones, 'no stopping' or 'no parking' zones, transit lanes, and other towaway zones are still off-limits.


For tradeshows, community gatherings, sporting events, award shows, professional conferences, or major events of any type, press passes are generally available. These are sometimes referred to as ‘press badges’. For event organizers, media involvement is not only desirable – it is often requisite of the event’s success. What privileges press badges offer, and who is eligible to receive them, depends on the nature of the affair.

Generally, prospective recipients must apply in advance, offering evidence of their credentials. Event sponsors may request past published material, or a letter from the news agency (using the company letterhead) detailing the job assignment. Generally, non-reporting employees of news agencies (executives, sales personnel, publishers, editors, et cetera) are not eligible for press passes. In addition to traditional journalists, prominent (and sometimes not-so-prominent) bloggers may be granted event passes.

Many major events, especially tradeshows, will issue a press kit to pass-bearers. A press pass may allow the bearer to request interviews with noteworthy attendants, and special rooms are sometimes set aside for this purpose.

Open events

For activities open to the public, like community gatherings, school events, or tradeshows, a press pass may offer nothing more than free or reduced admission or guaranteed entry – though the benefits may be far more extensive, granting access to front-row seats or to press-only rooms. For sporting events, a press pass issued by a stadium grants access to the press box. Because open events are usually funded by paying attendees, the number of press passes may depend on the number of tickets sold.

Closed events

For events closed to the general public, a press pass will grant access. Greater exclusivity, however, means more restrictions on potential pass recipients. For professionally conferences or tradeshows, passes may be granted only to journalists with a title of ‘industry analyst,’ or with an editorial or reporting designation.

News agency cards

"You do not need to ask permission from anyone to be a journalist," explains the Periodical Publishers Association; "however, it is sometimes useful to be able to identify yourself as a Journalist when needed." To this end, journalistic agencies issue press cards to their reporters, editorialists, writers, and photographers. These do not have the legal merits of government-issued cards, and they will not replace event-specific passes; the card only serves as proof of its bearer’s status as a legitimate newsperson. As such, card-carriers may be better able to obtain interviews, acquire information from law-enforcement, or gain access to exclusive venues.

For freelance journalists in the United States, organizations like the National Writer’s Union and the PPA issue press passes to approved applicants – for a fee.

Fake cards

Various organizations offer, for a fee, disingenuous press passes; some websites detail instructions on producing fake cards.Joan Stewart of the Public Relations Society of America reports, “Fake press passes abound at restaurant and theater openings, sporting events, music festivals, political rallies, celebrity parties and even crime scenes. With a decent computer and color printer, almost anybody can crank out an official-looking pass within minutes.”

In response to a perceived increase in such activities, legitimate card-issuers have taken measures to prevent counterfieting, creating cards with holographic foil blocking, signature strips, and tamper-resistant lamination. In the United Kingdom, the UK Press Card Authority (a voluntary consortium of news agencies) issues a nationally-standardized card to United Kingdom-based news gatherers.


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