“I apologize for having to be so specific, but we have been burned in the past by people claiming to be free lance writers,” the conference coordinator wrote in an e-mail forwarded by Zurer. “It seems that anyone with a computer (or a pen) can be a free lance writer … We also have to be certain that we are not burning our chances by having so much press that the press sees us as old news almost before the conference starts.”

Obviously, it is a shame when organizations establish restrictive press-pass policies, either because of past abuses or of their own accord, because staff writers and freelancers alike are increasingly less likely to have the means to pay registration fees. In light of that fact, individual journalists and journalism organizations should do whatever they can to curb the misuse of press passes, establishing guidelines and best practices for the field and opting out of meals and conference tours.

Likewise, conference organizers should draft clear press-pass policies and post them conspicuously on their websites. Ultimately, they can establish whatever criteria they want, but they should bear in mind that haggling and quid-pro-quo arrangements will not fly with most journalists. And, without subverting their own interests, they should strive to make these policies as flexible as possible, recognizing that it is generally not meetings themselves that are newsworthy, but rather the people and information that are found there.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.