Notes on the NYPD Press Credentialing Process, from the (Ineligible) Editor-in-Chief of the New York Observer

In a note responding to an earlier post from TheAwl detailing the various media organization associations of 26 reporters arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, Bloomberg spokesperson Stu Loeser tried to dismiss any accusations that the arrests were improper by noting that only five of the reporters arrested had valid NYPD press credentials. He then went on to Tweet at Observer News Editor Megan McCarthy:

@megan, you don’t have a press pass; that’s your option. But why should some random NYPD take your word that you’re press?

Aside from the question of whether credentialing by law enforcement is appropriate in the first place (inasmuch as it can potentially conflict with first amendment protections), the NYPD’s processes for acquiring credentials are, to put it nicely, Kafkaesque. To put it bluntly: they’re ridiculous.

Visit the “press eligibility” page of New York Finest and you’ll find the following requirements:

First-time applicants should contact the Press Credentials office (above) before completing their application.

Applicants must be a member of the media who covers, in person, emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or covers, in person, events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.

Applicants also must submit one or more articles, commentaries, books, photographs, videos, films or audios published or broadcast within the twenty–four (24) months immediately preceding the Press Card application, sufficient to show that the applicant covered in person six (6) or more events occurring on separate days .

According to the last paragraph, you have to demonstrate coverage as an uncredentialed reporter in order to get credentialed. So the only way to comply with the law is to have previously broken the law repeatedly.

It should be noted here that there are tiered layers of press passes. The lowest is fairly easy to get if you’re persistent. And by persistent, I mean willing to spend weeks getting in touch with the NYPD press office, eventually reaching a live person, and making an appointment months away, and hoping (in order to be within the letter of the law) that nothing tantalizingly newsy and earth-shattering happens in the intervening period.

The “real” press pass, the one that allows you to cross yellow police tape, is only attainable if you’ve covered the kind of story that necessitated crossing the yellow line–without credentials. (Thus, rookie reporters often sub in their bylines for breaking news stories and submit falsified copy to the NYPD.)

There’s also a more subtle problem, one that’s more likely to affect a smaller news org like the Observer than a larger one with more resources. Consider this line:

The applicant covered in person six (6) or more events occurring on separate days.

That rules out anyone at a legitimate news organization who’s working in a legitimate journalistic capacity who happens to be … an editor. Despite the fact that I can demonstrate to the NYPD in a myriad of different ways that I’m “press” by any reasonable definition–with plenty of documentation–I need to have covered six events myself (again, uncredentialed) and published reports about the same. It’s rare that I send editors to do field reporting and rare that I can do it myself (which is a shame, because I love it), but the fact that I can’t do that if we need the additional reporting is patently absurd.

But let’s face it, it may not even matter. Five of the reporters on TheAwl list were credentialed.

They were arrested anyway.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    What? I have an (ancient) degree in journalism. This is not how it works. None of his makes sense. 

    However, may I remind you of the who what where when rule in 25 words or less rule. In other words, a lede. Frankly, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    1. Simon J Harper says:

      Gary, this is a blog style post, as I understand it. The 5 W’s rule won’t apply, as it is essentially part of a continuing commentary where the reader is already aware of the general situation.

      1. “may I remind you of the who what where when rule in 25 words or less rule. ”

        I imagine it also helps to be able to construct a sentence when preaching about journalistic style.

      2. Anonymous says:

        but it’s a blog style post. it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s a continuing commentary!

    2. Anonymous says:

      That “However,…” sentence took me three attempts to parse into properly formatted English and still required some modification. A nice piece of work from a senior journalist remarking about form.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Three is less attempts than it took me to parse Elizabeth’s 56-word lead sentence. I could spend fifteen highly-satisfiying minutes of my day editing the redundancies, the wordiness, etc. into a tightly worded, well-constructed fact-filled piece of journalism; but I’m not a ridiculous person. She’s a good writer, and this reads as if it were posted on the fly when she was pressed for time. 

        However, she does wear the mantle of a mighty New York City editor-in-chief. Much is required. 
        The larger question is whether this is even news-worthy, or at least worthy enough to be the featured article on the New York Observer landing page. I would really like to know what happened that fateful night, and why, and to whom. Instead what we have is a screed against NYPD press policy, which, however rightly or wrongly enforced that particular evening, is designed to protect the innocent.And how does one reach the elevated status of editor without ever possessing a press pass, anyhow? The link to Choire’s short and pithy post in The Awl is something worth reading. Who knew he can actually report and interpret facts? Alas, he’s too talented  to waste his time on mere reporting. I apologize to you profusely for any confusion created by my highly caffeinated, under-hyphenated sentence. Sheer laziness, I admit, and I do have an anti-hyphen bias. I consider them a necessary evil. If a mote of contempt entered my complaint, well, I give as good as I get in that regard. I bow before the queen of all snark, Ms. Elizabeth Spiers herself. Your assumption that I am a senior journalist is hugely flattering, but I am no such thing. I sold out to the glamorous world of advertising as soon as I left college and realized that not only do I despise digging the dirt and the rude interrogation of strangers, but that I also require a certain number of dollars in order to eat. What do you do?

        A bit of advice from an old copy whore: Avoid words wagging an -ing behind them. ‘Remarking about….’ Weak, Mr. Bendragon. Weak. And I believe I was remarking ‘on,’ not remarking ‘about.’ Beware the temptations and limitations of ellipses. A dot-dot-dot is never preceded by a comma.

  2. Jake Dobkin says:

    Re: “The “real” press pass, the one that allows you to cross yellow police tape, is only attainable if you’ve covered the kind of story that necessitated crossing the yellow line–without credentials”

    This isn’t exactly true.  They’ll accept a range of non-yellow tape events.  For instance, I submitted six photo assignments I did for Gothamist.  All six were either press tours or press events organized by the city government.  Covering parades or protests would also suffice, and wouldn’t involve crossing police tape.  

    But on the larger point, that it is a difficult and laborious process, that takes many weeks, you are correct.   It is especially difficult for editors who have jobs that make it difficult to get out during the day.  But it is possible, and as a matter of principle, I think that all of us internet types (especially the non-MSM types) should make the effort and go through it.   The more of us who do, the easier it will be for the others.  

    1. Sam Goldman says:

      The press application itself lists that you can submit “(1) emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or (2) events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.”

  3. Jake Dobkin says:

    Re: “The “real” press pass, the one that allows you to cross yellow police tape, is only attainable if you’ve covered the kind of story that necessitated crossing the yellow line–without credentials”

    This isn’t exactly true.  They’ll accept a range of non-yellow tape events.  For instance, I submitted six photo assignments I did for Gothamist.  All six were either press tours or press events organized by the city government.  Covering parades or protests would also suffice, and wouldn’t involve crossing police tape.  

    But on the larger point, that it is a difficult and laborious process, that takes many weeks, you are correct.   It is especially difficult for editors who have jobs that make it difficult to get out during the day.  But it is possible, and as a matter of principle, I think that all of us internet types (especially the non-MSM types) should make the effort and go through it.   The more of us who do, the easier it will be for the others.  

  4. gregorylent says:

    welcome to china 

  5. weegee says:

    There are no longer two tiers of credential. I got mine when I was 15, and didn’t have to “break the law” to get the necessary clips. Anyone who’s actually worked the streets knows as well as anyone that, first, not every emergency scene is completely inaccessible/undocumentable from among the masses of spectators and, second, that it’s a rare occasion when credentialed media is afforded better access, anyway.

    The whole “I’m a journalist because I saw a plane go down in the Hudson and Tweeted about it, so gimme a press card” has directly contributed to the emasculation, if you will, of the credential. They used to be gold.  Literally, in some cases, as they would be duplicated in gilt and presented to retiring reporters as a meaningful symbol. Now, not so much.

    Talk to news veterans about how it once was. A perfect example turns up in the film “Fourteen Hours,” which depicts a based-on-reality incident where a jumper was on a ledge. A police officer has established a perimeter, but is allowing credentialed media through. One guy presents an expired press card, and the cop stops him. “Wait a minute, that’s the wrong color!” The newsman protests, but loses as the cop says “get another card!”

    I’ve always looked upon the NYPD’s issuance of media credentials, a practice which goes back nearly 100 years, not as some nefarious New World Order “state media” thing, but as common sense seeing as how they ostensibly permit access to restricted scenes of police operations. They used to bear the signatures of the Police and Fire Commissioners, because they entitled the holder to “pass police and fire lines.”  So, if the credential is issued instead by one’s own news outlet, or some People’s Press Collective, would the cards say “So-and-So is entitled to pass police and fire lines because I said so.  Love, the Editor?”

    1. L M says:

      Exactly! If you find yourself looking at the press pass requirements not knowing how to abide, you probably don’t deserve one.

  6. Danielbader01 says:

    It took me forever to get mine. I brought more examples than necessary and they used it against me. Because I also happened to cover an annual parade for a fallen officer they dismissed my breaking news coverage clips and gave me a parade pass. In my experience just having one made it easier dealing with suspicious citizens more than cops.

  7. @johnsin says:

    Wow.. its amazing to see people who already consider themselves, “Press” get so defensive when citizen journalists who tweet and livestream/ustream to more people simultaneously then you probably ever had. An audience of 25k. You sound jealous. Citizen journalists are here to stay because we can’t trust the media outlets that employ you. Yes, you may have a masters in journalism and 30 years in and a great reporter. However if you are releasing your stories through a main stream news outlet how can I trust that what you have reported hasn’t been sanitized by layers of editors and legal?

    If you truly love your job you would quit it and start your own news outlet. For one your credibility would be reinstated, your profile would go up, and people would actually trust and believe your words again. This isn’t an attack on any journalist personally, but a suggestion on how you may want to consider changing the way you conduct your career in this new age of citizen journalism and crowdsourced confirmations in real-time.

    This last week of #ows has changed the way we consume media forever and unfortunately the major news outlets failed miserably. 30 thousand people spontaneously gather in NYC and you all sit around wondering why? While the real reporters on the ground are telling the story in real time.

    1. nbo says:

      It’s not about who’s the better media (this debate has become a bore). It’s about the right to be media and not to be restricted arbitrarily like in soviet-style countries.

  8. Benday58 says:

    I’ve been a working reporter for over 40 years at big city newspapers, including in New York. I’ve never had “press credentials,” which are basically passes issued by the police department to journalists who routinely cover police news. Also, issued to some reporters and editors who want to be hot shots and manage to wangle them from their pals at the police dept. There is, in general, no such thing as a “press pass,” except as described above, or except for one-on passes for events that a reporter has applied for access to cover, like a trade show. 

  9. derek rose says:

    There are also reserve press cards you should be able to get from the NYPD, in the name of the institution. So it will say “New York Observer” rather than a specific person. Problem solved!

    1. derek rose says:

      From the NYPD’s website:

      “I am starting out in the business and have not covered any previous assignments. How can I obtain a press card?

      “The company that hired you has (or can obtain) a temporary reserve working press card. The reserve card will afford you access through police lines.”

      So no, you don’t have to break the law repeatedly to get a press card!

  10. Dark Chachi says:

        So what if they have credentials, does that mean the press is above the law as well?? BAD enough the police and politicians feel they are above the law now you are saying the press is? They were given warnings to leave and disband, no? Take responsibility for your actions, right or wrong. 
       Why not report on the littering the OSW did, or the fact they have current and trendy fashions($$$), Tattoos($$$), Multi-Body piercings($$$), all the latest toys and gadgets, yet no money to pay their BILLS?? Hmmm. Learn to live within your means. They probably all voted for the Commie-Muslim Obama anyways, yet complain to Wall Street for making better decisions on a career path. Please. If I succeed or fail it is your own choices that bring that about, not anyone else’s-unless some drunk runs you down crossing the street or such. Choices on what learn, what schools to go to, and career to have are  their own, for ill or good. I see plenty of Latinos with 2 jobs, so there is work available just not the work they want. Too Bad, put on your boots and do what you have to do.Thats Life. Doing what needs to be done not just what you want.
     They could do something truly worthwhile and join the US Military and really make a difference and help people(Tsunami 2004-without the US Military the death toll would have been in the millions, from water/food/medical/shelter shortages-riots). Do not ask what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country. JFK. With only .45% of the population in the service we need them NOW, more then ever. TIME TO ANTE UP AND DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FOR COUNTRY, FAMILY, AND SELF. The OSW is just as selfish, narcissistic, and greedy as those they protest. 

    1. Simon J says:

      So “Dark”, (a choice of names that raises questions in itself), have you asked whether the jobs the Military is USUALLY asked to perform these days are unnecessary and elective (Gen Clarke, and anybody with a brain), will kill a large proportion of the Military’s employees, and give others residuary illnesses from depleted uranium in the shells? Secondly, the Wall Street Walk Off (the money grab) is morally obscene, as the people concerned literally wrote their own laws to make it possible. Thirdly choices, while they determine future results, are better managed by different people at the same time; for example, someone with a father in finance has earlier guidance, thus stealing a march on others. The citizens are protesting against the dishonesty, not necessarily lack of basic money amounts, some of which amounts may reasonably be allocated to personal accoutrements.

    2. Well, they can’t report on anything if they’re not allowed to view the police in action, now can they? Whenever the police deny the press/public the right to see, with reasonable safety restrictions, what they’re doing out in public, they’re probably doing something wrong. Justice happens in the light, abuse happens in private.

  11. Tom Mink says:

    Press credentials are as much a defense for the police as for the press. Historically, the police don’t want to be portrayed in print as brutal thugs, rightly or wrongly. Giving press access and a status as neutral observers has been the only way to get an objective account of these sorts of events. It’s possible that the presence of so many non-neutral citizen journalists has convinced the police that it’s not worthwhile to hope for an objective account.

    I suspect that the NYPD is aware that there’s no way to make this look good and keeping the press away is their best bet to keep the worst out of the mainstream media. Perhaps they think that with powerful enough protection in corporate-backed city government, they can act with impunity and not worry about public opinion.