Obtain press credentials before reporting, as you may need to prove your status upon demand. Many news organizations issue credentials on request to contract employees and other freelancers. At the very least, freelancers should obtain from an assigning news outlet a letter on the organization’s stationery that states their affiliation. Various journalist associations and trade groups also issue press credentials to qualified individuals who join their organizations, including the National Writers Union and the National Press Photographers Association, each based in the United States, and the International Federation of Journalists, based in Belgium. Many press associations in other nations do the same, although independent bloggers can still face difficulty in getting credentials. Independent bloggers may find that compiling a portfolio of their journalistic work can help them make a case for obtaining press credentials.
You should also research and obtain press credentials from municipal, regional, or national authorities, recognizing that officials may issue credentials on a selective basis in an attempt to influence coverage (See Chapter 6 Civil Matters and Disturbances). Press credentials from a local police department could prove useful when you’re covering a local demonstration. Credentials may also be needed to take pictures or record events in public buildings such as state capitols or national assemblies.
Journalists traveling internationally should also research and inquire whether they need a journalist visa to report in a country. The answer is not always clear. In such cases, journalists should speak with other reporters and government officials to determine how best to proceed. In many instances, journalists have traveled to restrictive countries on tourist or other non-journalistic visas as a way to circumvent censorship and effectively carry out their work. Journalists should, however, weigh, potential legal consequences.
“In countries where the government might place restrictions on foreign reporters, you need to weigh those limitations against the consequences of being caught without proper accreditation,” according to a fact sheet on credentialing compiled by journalist Michael Collins for the U.S.-based Society of Professional Journalists. “In the end it’s a decision only you can make, but when dealing with the police, armed forces, or other officials it’s almost always better to have official accreditation.”
Military authorities sometimes issue their own credentials to journalists. Government military forces as well as rebel armed groups may require a journalist to obtain written authorization from a superior officer in order to clear armed checkpoints. These authorizations can range from a letter signed with a group’s official seal to the business card of a commander who writes a brief note on the back. Be mindful of which credentials and authorizations you show at any given time. One group may perceive the possession of a rival’s authorization as a sign of enemy collaboration.
Journalists working internationally should travel with multiple photocopies of their passport, credentials, and any accrediting letters, in addition to extra passport-size photos