How to Get a Press Pass

I am frequently asked how freelancers get a press pass, so I reached out to the committee to get their input. Here is their feedback:

Eric Francis: “I’m an individual member of the Arkansas Press Association and they send me an membership card every year. That’s as close to a press pass or press ID that I have. If I’m on an assignment and have to gain entry to an event or activity that isn’t open to the public (and, for that matter, those that are), I always make sure my editor has either paved the way for me or I have the contact info for the organizers and make arrangements in advance. I’ve found that, in general, a membership card to your state/regional press association, a professional-looking business card, and a good word from the editor who assigned you the story will open any doors you need opened.”

Carol Cole-Frowe: “I’ve never had a problem if I’ve had an assignment.”

Ruth Thaler-Carter: “Members of Washington Independent Writers used to be able to get press passes based on their membership cards. I’ve gotten them when I could present an assignment letter.”

Crai S. Bower: “I think there a couple of memberships that issue a credential, but I don’t know what they are. I usually contact the media director for the event and explain my assignment.”

Have you had a different experience with press passes, freelancers? If so, please share your thoughts in the Comments field below!



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  • Whether print or electronic, an assignment letter such as I mentioned should be on the letterhead of the assigning publication or organization. It doesn’t have to include details like what you’ll paid for covering the event, but it should identify the event or topic you’ll be writing about and mention you by name.

  • Through my membership with National Writers Union (NWU, I got an press pass from International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It worked when I covered the 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero where credentials were required in addition to a letter of assignment.

  • Don

    I don’t know of anyone else’s experience but I grew up aspiring to doing photography professionally and I had this vision of a press pass as some sort of journalistic device that magically opened doors and lent me legitimacy.

    As an adult who is instead a freelance/citizen/independent journalist/writer I’ve discovered that, like most things, the magic doesn’t exist but the hard work does.

    I can’t speak much to credentials for the sake of covering live/breaking events. My limited experience with that is that it helps to have my camera around my neck, be courteous but confident, and ask for the press agent or lieutenant if I am obstructed in some way. Identifying my organization confidently at the outset – even though the odds of them recognizing it are near zero – helps.

    For more formal events there’s usually someone on point to deal with the media. Arts events in particular, if they have a press night, will have people devoted to handling access. But in those cases all the work had to have been done up-front. When one of our writers goes to an event we’ve been invited to cover or which we’ve arranged ahead of time they go in knowing the name of the media handler for the organization so they can say “We arranged with XYZ to cover this.” Preferably they bring the email printout of the invitation.

    The closest thing to an actual credential available in our town – Washington DC – comes from the police department in the form of a media pass. We’ve never bothered to try to get them since we’re not a big on-site breaking news kind of operation, but they have a pretty well established procedure. If I was pounding the pavement every day I’d probably go for it; google up your area and “police press” and you’ll likely turn up if anything exists in your area.

  • Credentialing for me is a major issue. As a journalist for a small online news magazine, I basically get no respect. Yes, I can plow my way into a media pool of a big story, but the real issue is getting access equal to the Big Boys from mainstream media – such as the Mariners clubhouse so I can talk to players and coaches about what it is like to play a home game with half the fans cheering for the opposing team since 40% of ticket sales go to the fans of the “visiting” team.

    Also, I have reduced access to political leaders and governmental/agency bosses. That’s a bitch, and needs to be addressed. Online media, and especially hyper-local journalists, must be afforded appropriate access.

    As for a “press pass” I still wear the press pass issued by my former newspaper. Shhh..don’t tell them, please, the print is small….

  • Margery Clapp

    I belong to National Writers Union, a labor union created specifically for freelancers. Members can get press credentials after satisfying requirements that they’ve published at least two articles or other journalistic works in the past year. The press pass costs $40 (it may be more now) and must be updated every 2 years to be valid. And, as Becky said, members can get credentialed through other memberships in other press organizations through or outside of NWU. NWU has a disclaimer that credentialing members doesn’t guarantee that it’ll get them into an event, so if you go this route (you must join NWU first), don’t try flashing the pass at the White House door!

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  • Thanks for sharing useful information about getting press passes to cover a newsworthy event or concert. This blog is very useful. I would really like to come back again right here for likewise good articles or blog posts. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ruqayah

    Can someone please tell me how to become a member of National Writers Union, IFJ or NUJ? I am a professional journalist in Mauritius and would like to take a next step in the wider world. Thanks!

  • Anna Pratt

    Hi, have you tried checking out the websites for each of those organizations? I believe their guidelines are listed there. Good luck!

  • Laney Gipson


    Thank you for your thoughts regarding this wildly important aspect of online journalism. As a college student, I frequently scroll through online news reports and articles between or before classes. Certain news sources and journalists have gained my trust as trustworthy communicators. Some have even gained my trust even more after
    admitting a faulty report or mistake. In today’s world, news is available almost immediately after it happens. Even more so, digital media has opened the doors for unqualified (or under-qualified) consumers (or anyone with a smart phone) to post content or commentary on blogs, social media sources, etc. Charles Ess of Digital Media Ethics adds, “Whether by intention (e.g. by writing a politically oriented blog) or by accident (as a passer-by who ends up documenting an important moment), digital media allow ‘the rest of us’ to take up the roles previously accorded to professional journalist” (p.143, 2014). Do you think it is possible that the impact of social media and citizen “journalists” is affecting our levels of faith in professional media to be completely truthful? Are mistakes made by journalists more detrimental because of the sharing effects of social media?

    Thank you for your


    Ess, Charles. (2014.) Digital media ethics: digital media and society series. Cambridge, CB: Polity Press.


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