With the rise of the internet there was, of course, a rise in independent journalism and reporting. There are now a bunch of independent journalists and bloggers who are respected and treat reporting with the same respect as any other media or journalistic institution. So, as a major producer of ID cards and press passes in the US, we get quite a few inquiries regarding one-off press passes for independent journalists and bloggers. (We’ll say “the” major producer in the US, but we’re biased.) And, in light of reworking our page for press passes and Media ID cards, I thought I’d take a moment to answer the question above.

Your Rights as an Independent Journalist

Before we get into credentials, like IDs and passes, it’s important to understand the extent of the First Amendment. After all, if you’re not covered by it as an individual reporter, photographer, or blogger, why make a pass in the first place?

Well, I’ve got good news. Independent reporters are covered by freedom of the press. In 1974 it was decided that the freedom of the press extends equally to institutions as individuals (Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.). Then, in 2011, that was defined to cover bloggers (Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox).

So, great! That would seem to indicate that you should just go ahead and make your independent press pass, and start hitting those journalistic front lines. We’d caution against this, however.

The importance of credibility

As ID card experts, we are acutely aware of the importance of Issuing Authority. For example, we won’t print Police or Fire ID cards without first validating that the representative asking for them is a legitimate member of the police or fire department.

It’s easy to confuse the authority of the issuing institution with the authority of the ID card. A piece of plastic has no credibility, no matter how pretty or professional it looks. Credibility and authority come from the issuer. And, ID badges need to be viewed as a superficial representation of latent authority. The credibility may still need to be verified after the badge is shown. In fact, it should be verified.

Credibility from journalistic institutions

Of course, if you work for a newspaper or a television station, your ID card’s credibility is linked to those institutions, their circulation and viewership, etc. So, if you’re using a pass to gain special access to an event or location, naturally, those hold more weight. That circulation is your ticket—not the ID card directly.

This may seem obvious, but if you’re asking about making your own pass there’s a chance you haven’t really considered what it adds in terms of credibility. That is to say, the subtle fact that an ID card represents credibility rather than giving it, isn’t always obvious.

Credibility from other issuing organizations

This is precisely why there are several institutions that grant memberships to independent journalists, bloggers, and the like. If you find an institution which has a good reputation for vetting its members, than the pass they grant represents the fact that you aren’t simply someone looking for free event access. Essentially, a third party is vouching for you. This, in fact, is exactly what is happening when someone uses their driver’s license to buy a beer. The state of Pennsylvania, for example, is vouching for your age.

My advice

Let’s assume you understand that it’s illegal to forge an ID from another institution (essentially trying to steal credibility). Then, it is within your right to make an independent Press Pass or ID that indicates you practice independent journalism. However, since anyone could do this, such a pass holds no value and comes with no authority. This is why our advice is to find an independent issuing authority.

If becoming a member is as easy as giving them money, then there’s an extremely good chance that their passes won’t hold any authority with anyone else. Do your research. Find an organization that aligns with your integrity, that vets its members, and that has enough credibility to justify wearing a pass with their seal.