Journos May Not Get Spots at Inauguration

Everyone into the pool, as press passes get rare for inauguration

Inaugural planners warned the public Monday to be prepared for massive crowds, long delays and the closure of bridges and Metro stations on Jan. 20. There’s a warning for the press, too: Those credentials you requested might not be available.

While every day seems to bring another report of media layoffs and buyouts, the Senate press galleries say they’ve received an unprecedented number of requests from journalists seeking to cover Barack Obama’s inauguration.

The galleries plan to start saying no this week to those who don’t qualify for credentials.

“We’re going to have to be very stingy this year,” said Mark Abraham, the deputy director of the Senate Press Photographers’ Gallery.

Although the Senate Radio-Television Gallery did not respond to requests for information, the Senate Daily Press Gallery said it has had three times the usual number of applications; the Senate Press Photographers’ Gallery has had about four times the usual number; and the Senate Periodical Press Gallery reports receiving approximately 10 times the usual number of requests.

“Papers that have never come before are coming in droves,” said Joe Keenan, director of the Senate Daily Press Gallery.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Abraham. “It’s amazing.”

The demand is particularly remarkable in that it comes as many media companies are laying off reporters, downsizing their newspapers and cutting back on their Washington coverage.

The Newhouse News Service shut down after the election. The Tribune Company has cut reporters from its Washington bureau. The San Diego Union-Tribune closed its Washington bureau. Cox Newspapers is set to close its Washington bureau on April 1.

But even companies with shrinking Washington staffs want to be players on inauguration day – particularly when the president-elect has the star power of this one. Andy Alexander, the outgoing bureau chief for Cox, said his company will send just slightly fewer reporters to Obama’s inauguration than it did to earlier ones.

Newsday now has just one reporter based in Washington, but Political Editor Benjamin Weller said the paper will deploy seven reporters on inauguration day – the same number it sent to President Bush’s first inauguration. The difference: This time, most of the reporters will cover the event from local angles; some will accompany Long Island residents on the trip down.

Not everyone can do that. Salt Lake City’s Deseret Morning News had a Washington reporter on its payroll until this summer. For Obama’s inauguration, editor Joseph A. Cannon said the paper will make do by sending a photographer to Washington and conducting phone interviews with local residents who are attending inaugural events.

But for every Deseret News, there seems to be a far-flung or little-known publication itching to get someone credentialed to watch Obama take the oath and deliver his inaugural address. “It is pretty complicated this year,” Keenan said. “There are so many kinds of publications,” from traditional newspapers to tabloids to smaller niche publications.

The credential requests have come from all around the world — Italy, Ethiopia and every continent but Antarctica. 

Spokesmen for the press galleries say they don’t yet know how many credentials they’ll have to offer.

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