Today, the Digital Media Law Project launched a new research study on media credentialing practices. Developed with Free Press, the National Press Photographers Association, Journalist's Resource, the Investigative News Network, and the Nieman Journalism Lab, this new study is designed to learn more about how federal, state, and private organizations issue media credentials to newsgatherers and journalists of all types.
Even as the very concept of journalism evolves to accommodate dramatic new ways of gathering information, the idea of media credentials remains deeply embedded in the practice of journalism in the United States. Dozens of laws at both the state and federal levels condition the right to engage in newsgathering activity on the receipt of credentials. Police departments use press identification to separate journalists from protestors subject to arrest. Political parties limit access to vital aspects of the democratic process to those approved by candidates and their campaigns.
As a result, the question of "who is a journalist" is in many cases left up to the discretion of individual agencies and organizations. While many of these organizations attempt to exercise this discretion in a manner that is fair and serves the public interest, credentialing standards can nevertheless vary significantly. Worse, this discretion can be abused to deny credentials to newsgatherers whose investigations threaten the standing of politicians, government employees, and others who control access. And yet, there is little understanding of the scope of this issue.
The study launched today is designed to develop a nationwide overview of credentialing practices over the last five years. The core of the study is an online survey that asks journalists and others who gather and report information of public importance to provide information about their experiences in applying for and obtaining media credentials from federal, state, and private entities in the United States. The survey will generate data that can be made available to the public, be used as a platform for further study, and form a basis for developing measures to improve conditions for journalism as a whole.
We welcome participation in the survey from all newsgatherers, including professional and citizen journalists, activists who publish news content as part of their activism, and independent bloggers who write about current events. If that sounds like you, you can take the survey here. We hope you will join with us in this effort!