How Do You Handle Media Accreditation for a Blogging Conference?

Surprisingly, in the first five years, no blogger has requested media (that is, free) access to Northern Voice. We’ve had a smattering of mainstream media in attendance, and we’ve been glad to give them media passes.

This year we received our first request for media accreditation from a blogger. I’ve kind of been waiting for this to happen, as it raises this interesting question: how do you handle media access when everyone is media?

It’s really not a big deal for Northern Voice–it’s more a thought experiment than anything else. A few possible approaches:

  1. Media access for anybody who asks.
  2. No media access at all. We’ve let media in for free in the past, but from here on in, everybody pays. After all, it’s a pretty cheap event.
  3. Only media access for bloggers and online publishers who meet a certain threshold of popularity or authority.
  4. We only grant media access to those bloggers and online publishers who cover the social media space. This is analogous to giving hockey tickets to a sports reporter, but not a theatre reviewer.
  5. Clearly #1 won’t work. #2 seems a little Draconian. #3 is quibbling, time-intensive and very hard to police. #4 might be the right approach, though many (most?) bloggers could conceivably count the social web as part of their ‘beat’.

    It’s an issue that marketing and PR professionals will increasingly face, and it’s a question we get asked about in our workshops from time to time. My answer: most organizations have a too little, rather than a too much, attention problem. Most marketers are happy to accredit anybody who shows up with a notepad, camera or website. I haven’t requested accreditation very often–usually just to theatre shows and the like–but I don’t think I’ve ever been refused. Mind you, I’m not asking for tickets to Beyonce or free flights to Bali.

    What do you think? Who would you handle media accreditation for Northern Voice?

    UPDATE: Another possible option: set a total number of ‘media tickets’ and grant them on a first come, first served basis to mainstream media and bloggers alike. That’s a crude approach, and probably favours the bloggers who hear about the conference early. And, really, are we going to turn down the Globe and Mail reporter who wants to come at the last minute?

    UPDATE #2: Another possible criteria arose in private conversation with some folks: give accreditation to bloggers who have audiences that are currently under-served by the conference. For example, if somebody had a blog read by Vancouverites (or Canadians) who speak Mandarin as a first language. This seems like a thoughtful, sensible approach.


  1. Hey, wow, interesting conundrum. I really do think #4 is the best option. I personally, (though it is debatable whether it’s a good approach) get most of my news, restaurant recommendations, information in general from blogs and the Twitterverse, so to reach people like me granting access to bloggers is a really good idea.

    Of course, lots of bloggers get their information from mass media sources, I do tend to trust blogs that I frequent more than mainstream media, which I suppose is another reason it’s important to give them immediate access to information, instead of it first being filtered through the mainstream.

    I think #4 is best simply for the coomparison you made to granting hockey tickets to sports reporters, but not other reporters of other kinds.

    Bloggers focused on social media will likely take more of an interest and be able to report more intelligently on the content of social media. Bloggers of other niches may be curious and love a get-in-free pass, but not have as much of a drive or audience to dedicate to reporting on what they see and hear.

    That’s my take on it, anyway.

  2. this is a very interesting question. i’m glad you blogged about it. my memory differs slightly in how we’ve handled it in the past… i thought we said 2 all along. ‘we are the media’ and the conference is non-profit. pay up. that being said it was fun to watch the olympics try to answer this question! ha. they mostly just fumbled around and never gave a straight answer. as another point of reference here’s how o’reilly handles it for web2.0conference in SF… i bet they get a few requests. 🙂

    “To qualify for a complimentary media pass for Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco, the applicant must cover the industry on a regular basis by writing regular reports or publishing articles on related business or technology issues that are not solicited by an exhibiting company. Private consultants who are paid by an individual company are not eligible for a media pass, and should request a pass from the sponsoring company. Also not eligible are financial/financial research analysts, book authors, or contributors to user/community group publications.

    Additional information on requirements for media and analysts is as follows:

    Trade/Business Publications; Online/News Services

    Reporters from industry trade publications, newspapers, and wire services must provide a sample of an article published within the past six months that clearly displays authorship.

    Industry Analysts

    Writers from internationally recognized market research organizations, who consistently write for regularly published newsletters and/or reports, must provide a sample of an industry-related report published within the past six months that clearly displays authorship. Please note that only one analyst per firm may attend.

    Online News Outlets

    An online news outlet must contain original news content above and beyond links, forums, troubleshooting tips and reader contributors, and have a readership of over 20,000 per month. Each news outlet must have a paid reporting staff of two or more and must post original, dated, industry-related news at least once per week.

    Association Publications/Newsletters

    Reporters from internationally recognized magazines, newspapers, or newsletters produced by industry associations must provide an article published within the past six months. Newsletter reporters must have a registered subscriber base of at least 20,000.

    Freelance Writers and Authors

    Persons requesting freelance credentials must provide an article published within the past six months or a letter of assignment from a qualifying editor or publication. Those who freelance occasionally and are employed by non-news organizations are not eligible for media credentials.

    We reserve the right to refuse media passes, without cause, during pre-registration as well as on-site media registration. Please be advised that, due to high demand, media passes are limited in number and are reserved for commercial news outlets and major analyst firms.”

    1. We’ve definitely given media access to a few folks, but it’s never been more than a couple a year.

      Coincidentally, I asked for media access to Web 2.0 SF a couple of years ago, in the (legitimate, I hope) context of doing research for our book. And they were granted it. Now I’m on their media list and get all sorts of random stuff from them.

  3. this is good, last year it was sponsors this year it is bloggers (not journalists) wanting media passes. it gets better and bigger every year. all of these issues just bring more attention to an event that is successful every year no matter what challenges it faces. i still won’t go but you can thank Matt Good for that.

  4. I’ve always wondered how a blogging conference would handle setting necessary policy for media accreditation. Given I’m the media person who triggered this question among NV organizers, looks like I’ll find out … but let me first weigh in on the subject.

    While it’s tempting to default to guidelines established by a large Silicon-Valley socmed conference, consider that these emanate from the centre of the tech universe. And while Vancouver is a vibrant social media community, we have neither the size nor the critical mass to be exclusive. Until the degree of accreditation extended becomes onerous or too expensive to the conference, being inclusive is THE way to make social media usage and importance approachable to a wider range of people and businesses.

    Just as an expert skier completely forgets the challenge of learning basic ski moves, early adopters of social media forget just how baffling the topic/tools are to those who are as-yet
    , and why they should pay precious attention at all. I’m not surprised there’s been no print media accreditation requests … SO many people still don’t ‘get’ blogging and social media.

    Thus, social media is still very much doing ‘missionary marketing’ (which happens to the perspective from which I asked for attendance.) Ask any service provider, PR firm or marketing agency if this is true … their loudly proclaimed “you betcha” will resonate.

    Early adopters – such as the organizers of NV – have a tacit responsibility to help the less aware see the light, and increase the network effect of socmed. When a decade-long business columnist for a weekly business newspaper (like me) asks to attend with a view to promoting and enlightening others who aren’t aware, I think it’s counter-productive to make them meet a test around their blogging momentum. To do so turns the social media event into more of a club with unique language than an accessible event.

    I challenge the subjective judgement about accrediting a “last-minute Globe & Mail” person. A less national publication with a keen champion is going to reach alot more people, more directly, than the relatively-shallow coverage possible from a national’s limited column inches. There needs to be more thought put into socmed event collaboration with traditional print media.

    Would I have attended without accreditation? Maybe, maybe not. But offering it lowers barriers to spreading the word and generating real awareness – and isn’t that alot of what blogging and social media is about?

    I look forward to the conference …

    1. Thanks for your comment. Having read it, I admit to not being entirely clear on what your suggested policy would be. What would you suggest?

  5. As you’ve repeatedly said, Northern Voice seems to sell out every year no matter what, so any extra publicity/media attention isn’t really for the benefit of the conference in itself, but for some other purpose. If organizers can articulate what that purpose might be and whom it might benefit (I’m not really sure), then that would help answer your question.

    Personally I’d go with #2, and actually thought that’s how it’s worked since 2005. Draconian, yes, but simple. If particular media outlets choose not to attend because of the expense, or because by policy they won’t pay (however little) to attend a conference, then too bad for them. They’re willing to pay for gas and parking and food and expendables and staff time, so $45 or $70 or $90 ought to fit on the expense report.

    Then the response to people who ask, whether individual bloggers or Globe & Mail reporters, is easy: “Since we’re a non-profit conference full of bloggers, the line between (non-paying) media and (paying) non-media is just too hard to determine, and it’s getting harder all the time. So we consider every attendee a participant.”

    Alternatively, the idea of having a limited number of media passes would work. I’d suggest only opening it up a relatively short time before the conference (say a week or two), with some advance notice about when that will happen. But as you wrote, that still might get gamed in some way — though at least you can tell the hypothetical last-minute Globe reporter, “Sorry, you should have asked when we told you about it.”

    1. You raise a good point. If we sell out, what’s the point of media attention? Media attention would probably help attract sponsors and keynote speakers, and might (as I just posted in an update) help us reach communities of interest that aren’t currently aware of the conference.

      We’re not sold out of regular-priced tickets yet (we’ve increase the size of the conference by about one-third), so it would help with ticket sales, too.

      The reality of the limited number tickets is that, in my experience, mainstream media decide what they’re going to attend at the last minute. So they’d almost always miss out of those tickets. But then we could just go with ‘you snooze, you lose’.

    2. I really should boil this down, essentially from my first paragraph:

      1. On first principles, what are the benefits (if any) FOR NORTHERN VOICE of giving out any free media passes at all?

      2. If there are some, which media outlets (if any) best provide those benefits FOR NORTHERN VOICE?

      3. If there are some such outlets, and they ask, give them a pass. If the benefits are important enough, maybe actively solicit them to obtain one.

      4. Otherwise, no passes.

      It seems that media passes are given out because That’s How It’s Always Been Done. But no one seems to ask Why It’s Always Been Done.

      The end.

  6. Great perspective…

    I volunteer for local, commercial-free radio station and run a website for local dj events and for other radio volunteers to podcast their programs.

    I appreciate your point that most events are under-exposed rather than over-exposed to the media. What I see from the small media outlets,(independent radio) which often have strong grassroots followings, is that we under-leverage our access to events and effectively starve our audience of great content.

  7. Northern Voice is more of a community event and for that reason I am more than happy to pay to attend and support the community financially and by promoting the event via my channels.

    Normally I seek media accreditation for large local events through a newspaper I write for infrequently. I agree with #2 that all should pay to attend nv but it’s unrealistic to expect those used to receiving accreditation to pay. So it seems we are left with #3, those with a set level of authority/distribution.

    As someone who frequently receives media accreditation I predict that over the next few years these rules will established by individual conferences overrun by blogger media requests.

  8. This is a tough one for sure. I know some bloggers might want a media pass because well, blogging doesn’t pay very well but they still have a voice to help spread the word.

    I remember trying to go to my first Northern Voice in 2006 when we were on a single income, newly married, and gave up lunches for a few days in order to afford to attend (and we just had to get the t-shirts too).

    Then again, *everyone* there will spread the word.

    It’s tough when it’s a non-profit event as well… you know I’m just really curious to see what the consensus is on this or if one is reached. I like several of the options posted above so far.

  9. What about granting media passes based on needs?

    I know a fantastic, yet impoverished UBC student who is keenly interested in social media who would love to attend the conference on his own campus.

    1. A good idea, but that’s really the role of travel scholarships and volunteer opportunities.

      I’d recommend that your impoverished friend drop us an email at, and we can give them access to the conference in exchange for a few hours of volunteer time.

  10. I think it’d have to a combination of #3 and #4. The fourth option makes the most sense, since a “food blogger” isn’t really there to “cover” Northern Voice, for example. The third option will only come into play when you start getting too many applications for a media pass. At that point, you have to be a little more selective with who gets to go for free and, in the interest of exposure, you’d want to reach the largest audience possible. I’m not sure what metrics you could use though, since just about any criteria (RSS subscribers, Alexa, etc.) is limiting and flawed.

  11. Why not be completely impartial and do it via a draw? Choose the amount of passes NV will provide gratis, give peeps advanced notice (traditional media and bloggers alike), have everyone sign up by a certain date and then pick out of a hat?

  12. presumably media passes are granted to events because they result in media for the event or the industry. it has always struck me as odd that — even when i was benefiting — organizers rarely ask what kind of coverage, in what outlet, to what audience, such accreditation might create.

    which basically boils down to derek’s question: what’s the benefit to NV in granting media accreditation? media coverage in general is typically perceived as helpful, and the blogging community that attends NV certainly spreads the word through social media. but spreading the word is quite different from thoughtful media coverage and reporting (yes, i still think there’s a difference between bloggers and paid journalists), and in any case, the ultimate point isn’t just to sell tickets. potential sponsors are likely to be more easily convinced of the value of sponsoring an event that gets “traditional” media coverage, and then of course there is the intangible bonus of educating others about blogs and bloggers that presumably at least partly informed the decision to create NV in the first place.

    so my question to those who ask for accreditation is: what kind of coverage are you proposing to do? we give you something, what are you proposing to give us in return? a good answer gets you in, with the understanding that proposed coverage is not the same as actual coverage or positive coverage.

  13. Another option, since anyone (and everyone) at the conference with a blog qualifies as media, randomly award a select number of free passes throughout the sign-up process.

  14. Why not allow limited access? Big concerts allow photographers in one location for between 1 to 3 songs – then you’re out.

    And Derek … “. They’re willing to pay for gas and parking and food and expendables …” LOL! Not these days.

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