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Should Student Journalists Carry Press Passes?

January 1, 2012 by Dan

Should student journalists receive and carry press passes when on assignment?  In a recent message posted on a popular college media list-serv, the faculty adviser for a Maryland university student newspaper asked this question– one that is especially pertinent in a year sure to be filled with more Occupy protests, campus unrest, and presidential election madness.

As the adviser admitted, “I’m a little conflicted about them.  I’m thinking of getting some made up for our staff.  It just seems like it could help save some questions at certain events and crime scenes.  On the other hand, I don’t believe you need to have a badge to be a journalist.  What do you guys do?”

Among the respondents, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte offered the most impassioned urging for student outlets to immediately create and distribute press passes.  In his words, “It is our strong recommendation at SPLC that any student reporter or photographer who might be called to the scene of a protest, fire, civil disturbance or natural disaster wear some type of visible press credential.

“After the arrest of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, we learned that a representative of the Atlanta police department had been instructed to pick out the people at the scene who were identifiable as news media and give them individualized warnings to get out of the way of an imminent arrest sweep.  The two students weren’t given a warning, and they were swept up.  (Having said that, one of the two WAS wearing a press credential, so this by itself is no guarantee of safety.)

“This question gives me an opportunity to link everyone to the SPLC’s new Occupy-inspired tip sheet, with some precautions students can take to minimize the risk of arrest, or protect themselves if they are arrested:

“The tip sheet includes a link to the SPLC’s hotline number, which we will be monitoring around the clock, seven days a week, in the event that a student is arrested at an Occupy site.  Our friends at Holland & Knight LLP have agreed to put experienced media lawyers on call in major urban areas from L.A. to Miami to help get jailed student journalists released at no charge.  We hope no one has to take advantage of this service, but given the many Occupy-related journalist arrests– at least four of whom have been college student journalists– we felt this was an important backstop to make available.”

Earlier: Student Photographer Arrested at Occupy Rochester Protest in New York