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?