Would you grant press credentials to a blogger, essentially putting him or her on the same level as a mainstream or traditional journalist? The issue was raised during a professional development program recently hosted by the Central New York chapter of PRSA. For those who work on the media relations side of our profession, it’s a question they will increasingly face as the blogosphere’s phenomenal growth continues.
At the chapter’s breakfast program, no clear-cut answer emerged. That’s not surprising even though some of us might like to think the question is already settled. For argument sakes, let’s define our blogger as someone not employed by a mainstream news organization, such as a newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio, broadcast or television station or network. Plenty of local and national news outlets pay reporters, columnists and others on their payrolls to post materials on their sanctioned blogs. They’re not the focus of this blog posting. Let’s just assume those bloggers are like any other mainstream or traditional journalist. They are routinely handed press credentials upon request.
What about the other types? We’re talking about those folks you never heard from before. Sort of like free-lance journalists that seem to come out of nowhere and want the same access to your organization or company as the beat reporter at the local daily newspaper. If you’re planning to give them a cold shoulder when they request permission to attend your next big media event or interview the CEO, keep in mind what’s happened over the last few years. There’s growing evidence their influence over public opinion and even breaking news stories is ignored at your peril.
Bloggers were sitting shoulder to shoulder with mainstream journalists at the PBS presidential debates in 2008. They were also represented at the court trial for “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for former vice president Dick Cheney. And, as another example of the increasing legitimacy some have achieved, Josh Marshall, a blogger from talkingpointmemo won the prestigious Polk Award for investigative journalism in 2008. Marshall was cited for his work uncovering the U.S. attorneys firing scandal that led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
However, the reality, more often that not, is the typical blogger is either immediately turned away or his or her request for press credentials is put on ice while a public affairs or PR official carefully weighs the pros and cons of granting access. The perception that persists, I suspect, is that bloggers are not serious. They waste the PR professional’s time and, at worst, are trying to collect fodder for a one-sided, negative blog posting to be used against the organization or company in question. No doubt, many do.
Should it make any difference? If the role of public relations is to build and foster relationships with stakeholders, a blanket policy that automatically excludes bloggers from being granted press credentials could prove counter-productive. Engagement, not always easy, could be a better course over the longer term.
I’m sure the bloggers will continue to have something to say about all this, even if they don’t have press credentials. By the way, thanks for reading this blog.
Aspiring blogger J.B. McCampbell, member communications manager for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York, is a former newspaper reporter and copy editor.