The Myth of the Press Pass: Busted

I apply for (and receive) press credentials for industry conferences run by large corporations – in many cases, they need help getting the word out about what happened at their event. Gnomedex isn’t like other conferences, though. Robert Scoble and Steve Broback speak the truth. While we didn’t quite lock “press” out of Gnomedex, we made it clear that we only had a limited amount of space for registered attendees – people who paid to be there. I’ve (luckily) never been faced with a situation where I had to ask: “Which person would you like me to kick out so that I might accomodate your needs?” But there’s a method to my madness, and it has most certainly paid off in terms of front-page coverage in the Seattle PI. Let me explain.

Todd Bishop is a reporter, and a damn good one. He has a fundamental understanding of what Gnomedex is – and how important it has become in the eyes of developers, users, producers, evangelists, and vendors. He was a registered attendee, and I have the Mollyguard record to prove it. He came there not necessarily as a media pundit, as no respectable journalist would promise coverage in exchange for guaranteed admittance. Instead, Todd came as a technology enthusiast – and (I believe) the only local media in attendance. The exclusivity factor was through the roof (though not planned). How much was Gnomedex worth to Todd? That’s for him to answer. I can tell you this, though: as a conference producer, I’d take one Todd over a hundred press-passed people any day. Why? He was there because he WANTED to be there. And out of his passion sprang a front-page newspaper story, massive credibility and positioning with bloggers, as well as a front-page Digg link. Plus, I think he’s working on yet another story for the paper. Even if he came through the PI’s support, he was smart enough to ask for its help in the first place.

If more members of the press were like Todd, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a rift between traditional journalists and citizen media? I’ve had several conversations with this guy, and he’s not just someone who takes his job seriously – I really believe his efforts (inadvertenly or not) are helping the newspaper industry upright itself. He’s not just reporting technology, he’s learning and embracing it. I don’t know how accurate I am with my assessment of the situation in relation to Gnomedex and its coverage in the PI through Todd, but I believe I’m correct in the neighborhood of 90%.

I love the media (though I’m often accused of being an ‘attention whore’ in random Internet threads where my name is mentioned). I even want to help the media figure out how to move past slightly-outdated models and shrinking offline readership. Are they ready to listen – are they ready to be helped? Can we work on something together instead of spinning our wheels separately?

I believe “press passes” are important for certain conferences, but not others. If you’re charging thousands of dollars per attendee, you’ll need to comp out the wazoo. If every seat matters (for space reasons), then media comps become far less of an option. “Press passes” are also more important for events with low visibility – something which bloggers have made sure Gnomedex will never have. So, sometimes they’re good – but sometimes they’re not. I’m not trying to be Switzerland again, I swear. Over the coming days, there will be dozens of blog posts about the conference – both good and bad. More than anything, Gnomedex has gained a little more mindshare – strengthening the brand and enabling us to continue to complete our goals.

On a semi-related note, I’m more than a little disillusioned in the local tech crowd (generally speaking) – independents, small firms, as well as people from larger corporations. I can’t fault those who did not know about Gnomedex – but it’s the ones who could have come, who didn’t have previous plans, who weren’t busy with other things, who play in this industry and inside events like ours… I’m most disappointed in. This weekend was a tough one to work around, but if Canadians could celebrate Canada Day with us and not go home to sleep in their own beds… perhaps we weren’t offering enough value for Seattle? Perhaps we should take it to Los Angeles next year?

11 thoughts on “The Myth of the Press Pass: Busted”

  1. Pingback: SocioBiblog
  2. I can say that the last I place I would look for details about the goings-on at your conference would be print media.

    Sounds like your press pass model and the entire conference was a success. Congrats you attention whore ;)

  3. Hey Chris, thanks very much for the kind words. I appreciate it. I’d like to clarify something, just so people have a good understanding of why I went to Gnomedex and what the role of a reporter is in situations like that.

    I am interested in technology, and its implications, and that’s one reason I like my job so much. I get to ask questions, figure stuff out, and then let people know what I’ve learned. It’s very cool. But I wouldn’t call myself (or any other reporter) passionate or an enthusiast, since that might indicate a lack of objectivity on the subject. It may be a fine line, but it’s an important thing — maintaining objectivity in deciding whether something warrants coverage.

    About Gnomedex, specifically, I had a hunch in advance that there might be newsworthy and interesting things going on that our readers would be well-served knowing about. I wanted to be able to write about those things if that turned out to be true. The editors agreed and decided that it was worth paying for me to go. As it turns out, we were right — there was lots of interesting and newsworthy stuff happening, things we thought our readers should know about, and so that’s why you saw the coverage that you did.

    Thanks again, and thanks to you and Ponzi for putting on the conference.


  4. Keep it in Seattle! This is the first year I knew about it, but couldn’t go because of family stuff. I’m already planning on attending next year’s based on everything that I have read, and the fact that it is in Seattle is a huge draw for me at least.

  5. Chris:

    We’ll be happy to work with you in bringing next year’s Gnomedex to Los Angeles. Just ask and the key, er… thumb-drive to the City is yours!

    Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

    LAFD Blog:

  6. Oh, no, you HAVE to stay in Seattle. I wanted to come this year so bad but with a new gig just couldn’t swing it. Seattle is way cooler than LA anyway. :>)

  7. Yeah, Todd’s great. He’s one of the only “tech journalist” types I read, and the only one I’ve linked from my blog. I met him once at a party, when he walked up to me and knew me from my photo on my blog — another good example of how he’s a bit different from most traditional-media folks.

    Here’s a funny story of press passes at conferences I can’t resist passing on here …

    In 1986, I was in a software startup in Chicago and went to Comdex in Vegas to try to get some coverage for our products. I printed some business cards for a fictitious publication called “Digital News” so that I could get a press pass and get in free. (It was easier back then, you usually just needed a business card.) I put a stack of of our press releases in the press room, and it worked — Infoworld and a couple other publications mentioned us as if we were exhibitors.

    Anyway, we went to a Bennihana-style place for dinner one night in Vegas, and we wound up sitting at the same table as two writers from Digital News, a DEC publication. I hadn’t known they existed, or I would have made up something else! They took one of my cheapo fake business cards as a souvenir.

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