A Press Pass Can Make a King or Queen of an Independent Journalist – But is it Fair?

Today, an association like TravelWritersNetwork.com issues professional credit card-style press passes to journalists and bloggers, which allows them to move like royalty in society, arranging interviews with celebrities, receiving discounts on hotel stays and trips, as well as free dinners and a whole range of star-quality benefits.  But many old journalism institutions oppose these associations, professing that only large “old and established” organizations should be able to issue press passes.  So who is right?

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The days of journalism have certainly changed since the dawn of the internet and the rise of blogging platforms like WordPress.  It used to be the case that the only holders of the illustrious “press pass” were journalists who worked for news publications like The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, or the Philadelphia Inquirer.  And the only fashion magazine journalists who had entries into stardom worked for glossies like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, or Elle.  But today there are many independent websites, and even individual WordPress bloggers, who receive more traffic on their simple sites than the big news or fashion sites. For example, Elle.com receives 1.4 million visitors per month; yet there are “simple” blogs that are not household names who do far better… (Lookbook.nu receives 2.4 million/month and Polyvore.com soars at 4.3 million readers in a month).  So why should press passes be reserved for companies like Elle.com because they are “old and established?” when some bloggers can reach many more readers?

The Travel Writers’ Network (TWN) is an association for travel journalists, photographers, and travel-related writers of fiction and non-fiction books who is against this quote, “old-fashioned snobbism.”  Through their website at www.travelwritersnetwork.com, they accept new members based solely on the quality of their writing and the ambitions they strive towards.  When a member joins ($80/year), he or she immediately receives a press pass.  They have received considerable criticism for this “immediate press pass issuing” from old establishments who claim that “all they are is a press pass dealer.”  They, as well as their members, say otherwise:

“I sent an email to the Travel Writers’ Network with a few links to my published articles,” says TWN member Joshua Feldman, “and they immediately accepted me and in two weeks I had my pass.  But they didn’t stop their services there.  I was planning then a trip to Thailand and was hoping for discounts on the basis that I would write articles to promote the companies who helped me.  They immediately called Thailand on my behalf and arranged for me to have a discount on my hotel stay and receive free tours and a few free dinners.  They are not simply press pass vendors.  They strive to help members along the way, after they’ve joined.”

When asked about Feldman’s comment, the TWN told us, “We did it to help him because he is our member, but we play fair… Feldman assured us that he would in fact write the articles on the hotel, tours, and restaurants in Thailand.  Later, we helped him to get them published.  But the point is, we are not in the business of ripping-off hotels and restaurants.  We wanted to be 100% sure that Feldman would reciprocate for the discounts and free services he was offered.  We want it to be a win-win for everyone.”

When asked if the blogger or journalist needs to write for a high-traffic website in order to receive a press pass, they said no… “It’s not traffic that impresses us,” said TWN executive James Kirkland.  Of course, if you write for an unknown blog that gets more traffic than a city newspaper, we are going to take favourable notice.  But what is more interesting is to find a journalist who has talent and ambition.  He or she may only have a simple WordPress blog with a few hundred followers; but when his or her articles show talent, vigour, and a desire to spark people’s attention, we think that person is entitled to a press pass to get their career going.”

A press pass certainly is a way for a journalist to get a career going.  Flashing a photo ID card that says “PRESS” in all capital letters has always gotten the attention of everyone from restaurant and hotel owners to big name celebrities.  People with press passes are often able to receive free meals in exclusive restaurants, discounts on hotel stays, travel tours; beauty, relaxation, and other gratuitous offers in spas for free.  But the benefits of a press pass aren’t just economic.  Journalists with press cards are able to secure exclusive interviews with celebrities and private tours of places normally off-limits to the public.  “In short,” says John Marshal, a member of the Travel Writers’ Network, “having a press pass is like having an easy time getting the velvet ropes of the world lifted for you.  If you show your pass, and talk the right way, you’re in!”

The question is not: “should press passes exist?” as they have for as long as publications have been in existence.  The question is “who should be able to issue them?”  The only sensible answer in this chaotic world of journalism we find ourselves in in 2015 is “Whoever wants to.”  And we’ll let the celebrities and the restaurant and hotel owners decide if the publication and press association is of value to them or not.

Journalists, photographers, and authors : Apply to join the Travel Writers’ Network at: www.travelwritersnetwork.com