Sunday, November 16, 2003

Press pass misconceptions

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Euless Trinity's defense tries to hold the line against Arlington Lamar's Derrick Bowman during a high school football championship game at Birdville Fine Arts/Athletic Complex in North Richland Hills on Saturday, November 15, 2003. Lamar won the bi-district championship and advances in the playoffs.

Let's clear up some misconceptions about press passes. For some strange reason, everyone seems to think we have some magic pass that gets us into places others cannot go.

There is no single such pass. It would be a violation of the First Amendment to have such a pass because it would be state licensing (federal) of the press/media. The problem with any suggested programs is that someone gets to decide who is "press."

The answer is: Everyone and Anyone.

All it takes to be "press" is to say you are press. Having said this, there are shades of press and a pecking order, but that changes at the speed of thought anymore.

The Drudge Report comes to mind. Nobody would have given an internet E-zine the time of day five years ago, but now some major publications have gone to online-only publications to save money and trees. Even some regions of the National Press Photographers Association have gone to the online adaptation.

Meanwhile, we get issued passes for various functions. I have one for the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Stars, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Burn, the Dallas Desperados, the Dallas Sidekicks, and one issued by the Dallas sheriff's department if none of the above will work.

When I first started in the field, I thought it was cool to have all these little plastic-coated badges. It didn't take long before I had a huge wad of them hanging off my camera bag in college.

By the time I turned pro, the wad of passes was several inches thick. It was a way to keep babies and bored people entertained. Babies love them because they are shiny. Bored people are ... well ... bored and any break is good.

I was OK with the whole issuing passes until a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at an elementary school had a pass made for me and expected me to pin it on my vest. It was the final straw. It felt like they were saying, "Here's your dog tags. Now bark dammit bark!"


So, I keep this year's important tags on a cord where I can tuck them into a pocket. The rest are in my photo closet with my ancient film cameras.

At concerts, we get stickers from the bands. Each band has their own material sticker. They try to out glitz one another. As if most news photographers don't stand out from a crowd, they want to stick an orange label on us like a giant banana. Then they will know the person with the 300mm f/2.8 lens on a monopod works for the press and isn't some fan with a $10,000 camera system. OK. Whatever.

At work, all the doors in the photo area are covered with these stickers. From what I can tell, Metallica has the most obnoxious (it is almost a foot wide). Some performance halls have the same sticker for most performances, so once one from the venue is on a door, there isn't a duplication.

Notably missing is Ricky Martin. He killed himself with the American media when he demanded total control of his image. I don't know the whole story, but it was explained to me that he wanted (his team) to preview images before they could be run and various other demands that are completely impossible.

Therefore, he was no longer news and vanished. Hmmm...


Now I can tell who is in what phase of their career. If they are overly eager and smother the photographer with too many questions, they are beginning. If they are cool and let the photographers do their job without hassling us, they are going up. If they play to the cameras during the first three songs of the concert (because they know we will leave after the first three songs), they are near peak. If they want some kind of concession from photographers and the newspapers who employ them (which they aren't going to get), they are on their way down. If they demand something that nobody in their right mind would agree to do, they are done after this tour.

So far, my favorite band to work with was America. They were a lot of fun and regular people. One of the guitarists is an amateur photographer. He tried out my cameras during their concert. He thought it was cool. :-)

So, I wrote all this to say what?

You don't need a magic press pass to be press. Being press makes you press. The passes are just pieces of paper (or plastic) to control who can't go into some areas.

Personally, I try to get as few passes as possible now. The fewer I have, the more places I can go. Strange, but true.

Enough for now,


Fluxx said...

Please please please keep this up. I love the edge you give your writing through simple honesty - hell, that's why you're a photojournalist though.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Thanks. I don't post some days, but my goal is to post something every day until something horrible happens (it will).

timona said...

Interesting topic. Unique perspective. Just found your site, and I'd like to read more. Hope you keep it up. said...

Just stumbled on here. Love the article.

Jon Brown said...

I like your writing, but telling people looking for a press passes to get into their first event that they don't need them, they just need to be press is like telling a starving person he doesn't need food he just needs to eat.

The answer needed is to the question as to how one becomes press. How does one get those first images to build and start a portfolio that you can leverage to get into more events.

Do you go shot public events that will allow anyone in with a camera and hope to get those sold, do you keep harassing an editor until they say they need photos for a particular event...

I'm sure lots of people just want a press pass because they want to get in free, but that's a different question and one that hardly worth an answer.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Curiosity is a hallmark of a PJ. So is checking facts. As such, an aspiring PJ might read the 2nd or 4th link I provide. That's precisely where anyone can learn about the biz.

Again, to be a legitimate press PJ, a shooter has a four-year degree and/or experience (college or as a stringer).

Sure, someone can claim to be a PJ without doing the background work and suffering, but they could also claim to be a doctor or a duck. It doesn't make them one, but they can say they are.

In the last year, I've needed a press pass four times. All of them were at championship or pro sporting events. During this same time, I've shot millions of images and published thousands.

Having a pass doesn't make anyone press anymore than having a piece of paper makes someone a doctor or having feathers makes someone a duck.

Tomas Stargardter said...

I used to have one issued from the Nicaraguan President's office.

It was magic. Traffic cops would let me slide and I had access everywhere.

That lasted just a couple a years when a new president was elected.

Still it was fun while it lasted.


Mark M. Hancock said...

It sounds cool, however it also means the Nicaraguan President's office got to choose who was "press." I'm sure you'd agree this isn't a power that should be given to any government.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Dallas Fort Worth Area and my brother and I are starting a multimedia business and will have a lot of photography and video... We will most assuredly be in the photojournalism market as well.

What is the best way to make contacts and be able to gain "permission" to the talent or the main events


Mark M. Hancock said...

If you're starting a business, you'll need to operate as a legal business. You must take responsibility for your actions and be held accountable.
First, you'll need to file with the county for a assumed name and the state for a sales tax permit. You'll need to collect and file taxes quarterly for consumer transactions.
Next, you'll need to be insured in case you or your equipment cause any damage. Then, you'll need to hire a lawyer to write all the proper contracts to conduct business.
Considering your name isn't even listed on your blog and you don't have a Web site, you have a long way to go before you should approach any market.
If you don't have a degree, you're going to have a very rough time breaking into PJ work. If you don't have a clean background, you're out.

TheWeirdGirl said...

I know how you feel. A lot of my friends want to get in places for free as my 'assistant' because they just don't get it.

Mike Margarit said...

I've been photographing anything and everything for the last 38 years and I have never needed a press pass. I was at the 911 memorial with Secret Service agents all over the place because of Obama and MaCain's appearance at ground zero. The agents were pretty nice and I was allowed to shoot with no problem. I even photographed George Steinbrenner's offices, the last week of the closing of Yankee Stadium and photographed inside the stadium itself. It all depends on your attitude and the type of letter you send before any event. Journalism is dead anyway. It doesn't matter which newspaper you work for or get credentials from. The editors will use your photos and stories for their own agenda.

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