As published in PRWEEK, July 19 2004
"Oh, reporters will never go for it." "Journalists are lazy, they'll never sign up."
These are some of the comments I hear in my travels to bullhorn the value of online newsrooms. These particular remarks are concerned with whether an online newsroom should be password-protected or not.
Do these PR pros seriously believe professional journalists will bypass an official information source because they must register for entry? These are reporters. Their goal is to get the story correct, despite obstacles. Visualize an editor interrogating his writer on why he didn't get the facts. Saying, "I didn't want to give my name and number," wouldn't seem to be a career savvy response for a reporter.
Why such a reaction? Perhaps it's the common resistance to accept new technology. After all, some people initially hesitated to use ATMs. But, as any new device or process is introduced, its purpose is usually to create a better means to an end, acting as a tool to help perform a job more efficiently. The online newsroom - and how to use password protection within it - is such a tool.
Alternatively, I run across members of our industry that do see the advantages of restricted admittance. "Kip" Smith, manager of corporate communications for Delta Air Line, knows. "Registration accomplishes two goals," he says. "First, it provides more accurate data for the Delta media team to assess the effectiveness of their communications efforts. Second, registration provides exclusive access to useful tools, data, and resources for our valued audience, members of 'the fourth estate' all around the world."
"We utilize passwords to track individual use of our site," said Matt Barnhart, director of media relations for the NFL's Detroit Lions. "It helps us build and maintain a database of users. When they originally register, they have a temporary password that allows them access to most, but not all, of our information. This helps us review registered media. Once a media member is approved, they have full access."
I asked Whitney Drake, manager of the media information center for Ford Motor Company, if its newsroom was guarded. Drake replied, "Only some portions of [it] are password-protected because we wanted to make as much of the information available to the public and enthusiasts as we could." On the other hand, Smith believes that there is little value in providing access to the public, "Certain elements in Delta's online newsroom are intended only for the news media. Some of these elements can make excellent incentives to encourage news media reps to register on the site."
Both Drake and Smith agree that photos should be available only to registered journalists. "Photography, video, PR contact information, and media advisories are password-protected," continued Drake. "[These sections] are for editorial use." Smith states, "We chose to limit access to high-resolution photos, subscription capabilities, and personal folders. The high-resolution photos are a draw for print journalists. Subscription options and a folder to store stories and pictures are conveniences for reporters researching certain stories, especially articles with great depth. The balance of the site is available to everyone, including investors and analysts."
Tony Fouladpour of Volkswagen expresses a multi-purpose viewpoint. He comments, "The goal of a press release is to get information to the public via news or other outlets. No one writes a news release for private release. Therefore, I think it a little odd that a car company, such as ours, would want to password protect its media information from the public. I welcome visitors seeing it, reading it, and passing it along. That is what press information is all about - public exposure."
Fouladpour accedes that one area should be safeguarded. "The only thing [that must be] password-protected is the high-resolution downloading. In this way, the general public can enjoy the photo and the journalist
can download it for publication purposes," he consents.
Audi's Jennifer Cortez, who shields the company's executive biographies and its photography, adds, "The password-protected images ensure that our photos are for editorial use exclusively." None of those I spoke to have had negative experiences, except Cortez. She remarks, "I've definitely heard negative feedback if we assign journalists a username and password. It's been my experience that journalists prefer to select their own."
To be or not to be password- protected isn't a life or death decision. If you find that securing your entire newsroom, part of it, or none of it, doesn't work for you, change it. Make sure the technology you are using allows for that flexibility.