Should Press Get in Free to Conventions?

Site reviewer Ed Sizemore pointed this out to me — Otakon, the Baltimore anime/manga convention, has an unusual policy on press attendance. In short, you apply for a press badge, which gets you into press-specific areas … but only some press attendees are given complimentary membership to the convention. The rest have to pay $55-65 for a weekend badge. (There are no one-day passes.)

Now, I’ve worked press registration for the Baltimore Comic-Con, and I know that there are a lot of people out there who may not qualify as traditional press, and their online credentials may be skimpy or questionable. But to say “yeah, you can cover our show, but you still have to pay” … that strikes me as rather odd. Certainly, it’s the first time I’ve run into such a policy. Especially from a group that bills themselves as “an educational non-profit that promotes understanding and appreciation of Asian culture”.

Are there any other shows that operate this way? Is it a clever or greedy approach?

19 Responses to “Should Press Get in Free to Conventions?”

  1. Deb Aoki Says:

    I had this experience with Kawaii-Kon at first, but they pretty much changed their tune after a few years. I’ve heard Anime Boston also has a similarly strict policy about granting free access for press attendees.

    I can see some con organizers’ points in that they don’t want to give free passes to anyone who can set up a wordpress blog in a weekend — but most cons handle it by asking for a business card, press clips and sometimes a professional reference — and being very clear about who qualifies and who doesn’t.

    i don’t really have a problem with paying to go to a show if I was too dumb or too lazy to submit my press credentials application by the deadline, because hey, it’s my fault for not having my stuff together. But I don’t like being surprised at the door and told I have to pay full price because they can’t find my paperwork. :(

  2. Jon Jordan Says:

    having been on both sides of this, I think as long as people requesting the pass can prove they are really press it’s cool to give them out free. As long as they make it clear up front who qualifies and who doesn’t.
    But last year we did a large con for mystery fiction (bouchercon) and a lot of people who claimed to be press just did one or two small posts on a blog afterward and the post was more about who they had lunch with. Not really worth giving out a press pass.

  3. David Oakes Says:

    I’s not the money or the elitism – though both of these things will bring them enough grief. (There is no such thing as bad press for stars. But there is no such thing as good press for institutions, especially when they are poking a stick at the press!)

    Rather, it is the mechanical implementation of this policy. In seperating “Press” from “Membership”, they seem to be creating an entirely seperate badge. So you have to have a Membership badge to get into the Con, and then a Press badge on top of that to get into the special press areas. Which only leads them to sound like North Korea when they say the Press Badge will only get you in to the Press areas, not the convention itself.

    In attempting to limit the press, they are merely doubling their headache.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    I can see both sides of the argument, mainly because new media have made it difficult to discern between professional journalists (even unpaid ones) and fans.

    I don’t think forcing media to pay is the answer. Unfortunately, the solution I would propose is is subjective and brings with it extra work. When it comes to approving a media pass/badge, I think a person has to be assigned to check out the applicant’s credentials.

    For example, I think someone from something as widely read as Blog@Newsarama, for example, would qualify, but someone from another fly-by-night comics blog (for example, the anonymously creative and quickly abandoned site to which you referred in a post in March) wouldn’t.

    I’d like to think that I would qualify under such a scheme, not so much based on my writing at Eye on Comics over the past few years, but on my work for such sites as Psycomic, Fandom and The Fourth Rail. But like I said, under my suggestion, it would be up to the judgment/whims of the person selected to screen the press-badge applications.

  5. Johanna Says:

    I definitely agree that there are people who will try to get in as press that don’t qualify, but I think the answer is “don’t give them press badges”, not “make them pay anyway”. I think the Otakon solution looks a bit like someone didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so they picked a less-than-good option.

    Don, that checking was part of what I helped with for the Baltimore show. That, and following up to see who really did what coverage.

    I was surprised to see how many people didn’t realize that the reason shows give out press passes is to get mentioned.

  6. James Schee Says:

    You know its too bad there isn’t like.. I don’t know a Comic Press Association or something of that like group. A free (or REALLY low cost for just paperwork/cards stuff) that would help shows with this type of stuff, so you could know who is legitimately a press (even if it’s just a small comic focused blog that the CPA can say yes it does exist) and who just wants to get in free.

    The weird part for me is I’ve never had to pay for a con, though it was from little doing on my own. My first Con I was either yours or KC’s guest, the next I got in as a guest on the program for my DC Comics chat hosting duties. (which amused me greatly to see my name on a guest list)

    Then I went to Baltimore just as I had started a reviews site, the year of the hurricane, and Tim O’Shea and I got press badges. I had planned to pay, but made sure to write up a report that actually appeared on a few sites.

  7. Paul O'Brien Says:

    It really depends how much you WANT the press to come. Nobody’s obliged to let them in free. So it’s not a moral question, it’s a pragmatic one.

    But if your stated aim is to raise awareness, it makes sense to encourage them. And even if you’re running a purely commercial operation, the free publicity is probably worth more than the weekend pass. What does $55 buy you in a newspaper? A three-line classified ad?

  8. Augie De Blieck Jr. Says:

    As I recall, the Pittsburgh show doesn’t let in press for free, either. It’s been years since I went there last, though, so maybe it’s changed. (I doubt it.)

  9. Johanna Says:

    Well, that would account for why I never hear anything about them. Buh dump ba.

  10. Jamie Coville Says:

    The Toronto Fan Expo run by HobbyStar has an alternative method. Press (if they qualify) get in for free, but only 2 hours after people who paid for the deluxe passes get in.

    In 2007 some friends of mine got in at 2pm, I was stuck outside cooling my heels until 4pm, when they *opened* the press room to give out badges. I got in about 20 minutes after that.

    And from there they are also limited to what panels they can get into. Big name popular celebrity doing a panel? No press allowed, only paying customers get in.

  11. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Jamie, That sounds like Toronto Fan Expo is punishing the press. So press coverage can’t start until 2 hours after the event has already begun and it can’t include any celebrity panels? Then what’s the point? You might as well not give out press passes.

    Honestly, if any con I was going to had that policy, I wouldn’t apply for a press pass. I’d cover the event and then slam them for their press policy.

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Actually, here’s something else to consider:

    I work for a community newspaper, and we cover all sorts of events, from news conferences to trade shows to concerts.

    If any such event wanted coverage but wanted a reporter or photographer to pay for access, it wouldn’t get coverage. Period.

    Mind you, there’s a local activist/blogger who occasionally purports to be a journalist who’s denied free passes for such events here ALL the time. He loudly protests such exclusions.

  13. Jamie Coville Says:

    Ed Sizemore: That’s pretty much what I did. I got the impression they viewed press the very poorly (unless you worked for TV and had a camera crew with you) and thought by doing this the press people may pay to get in instead next year.

    I didn’t go last year, mainly because it was close to San Diego and was “conned out.” I’ve also found the comic portion of the convention shrinking and being redundant from previous years too. But also because of the press policy.

    I’m going to San Diego again this year but some friends talked me into giving the Expo another try. I’ll see if it’s changed at all.

  14. Jim Vowles Says:

    The benchmark for whether you’re comped or not at Otakon is based on whether you’ve actually produced press coverage of Otakon. Speaking as former chair, and current head of Guests, Industry, and Press: I don’t mind critical coverage; the key is that you fulfill your part of the bargain and actually do your job.

    Essentially, we found that our once very open policy was getting abused routinely by “Internet journalists” who were often nothing more than bloggers with no real audience. As someone above suggested, that sets up an unfair dynamic where so-called “press” are just in it for the perks.

    Organizations that send people every year, that routinely post reviews, interviews, and other coverage of the con, have had no trouble getting comps or getting badges. Professional press credentials are always allowed. The community paper you refer to would almost certanly be comped. But there are THOUSANDS of bloggers out there and very few reach an audience, and few maintain any sort of journalistic standards.

    So yes: Legitimate, credentialed, professional press should get comped access. For others, it depends.

  15. Johanna Says:

    The problem with that “prove it to us” attitude is that a legitimate outlet who’s interested in covering the show for the first time is left with a bad taste when they aren’t comped the first year.

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  17. Jim Vowles Says:

    Johanna: The problem with the old approach is that 200 people were getting in free and not producing anything at all.

    When you say “a legitimate outlet”, what do you consider legitimate? A blog that started last month and has about 50 readers doesn’t necessarily deserve free access, yet routinely people were assuming they were entitled to that because they were “press” in their own minds. Got your byline in a “real” news outlet or reviews posted routinely on DVD review sites? There’s a pretty good chance you’re legit. Show up with cameras for the local news outlets? Not a problem. We’ve even comped badges for journalism students and high school kids writing for their school papers — but not *automatically* in every case.

    But pretty much everyone has a blog (or three) these days, and blogging and punditry is NOT journalism.

    This isn’t a blindly enacted policy designed to punish anyone — and as someone pointed out above, the purpose of the free pass for press is to ensure you get covered. Our event is paid for by the membership, not deep-pocketed corporate sponsors, and our focus isn’t on selling a product — we simply can’t afford to give memberships away like candy.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Your press contact should be responsible for determining legitimacy, based on (as others have suggested) clips, outlet, and publishing history. Saying “oh, ok, you’re press, but that doesn’t really mean anything” just ducks the issue and enables those 50-reader sites you’re concerned about to continue with an overinflated view of their own importance. If you do want “press” to mean something, you should make those credentials meaningful by connecting them to admission.

    As for your statement that blogging isn’t journalism — a blog is an outlet. What you do with it might be reporting (I’ve broken a couple of stories here in my time) or not, but the mechanism you’re using doesn’t determine whether or not you’re a journalist. Your content does.

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