A press trip is a partially or completely free passage or stay provided to a journalist by a company, NGO, or public institution, so that they will write – or not – an article.
This may save money for the media organisation but it also puts the professional ‘guest’ in a position of dependence with relation to the backer.
Some daily newspapers ban press trips, while others inform their readers that articles have been written within this context. Some have no official policy, while others use press trips but still assert their independence to write free of influence.
There are also invitations where the regular army takes journalists into the field of action. How are the relationships between military communication professionals and news professionals managed with the need to balance protection and censure, influence and proximity?
De Standaard : Authorised and made public
De Standaard rarely covers armed conflicts. One correspondent based in Lebanon is charged with covering Syria and Iraq and the newspaper does the necessary to ensure their safety. However, when reporting on an armed conflict, a journalist embedded with army troops is not at all in the same situation as the journalist who benefits from the help of a company or an organisation to produce their report.
The newspaper does not have guidelines for accepting or refusing this type of invitation, however the mediator always asks that readers be informed if this applies, although this demand is not always respected.
De Standaard has limited finances for travelling. It accepts offers of free air tickets for editorial staff – a scientific journalist, for example – in order to go to an important congress on the other side of the world. In this case, the journalist’s independence is not compromised by attending a public event and they have the opportunity to meet and interview people.
One should, however, differentiate between the subject matter and the support provided to the newspaper. In general, the Economy, Politics, Science or Foreign departments are expected to be independent and neutral. The same demands are not made of the Sport or Tourism departments. Exchanges between the editorial organisation and the mediator are common and sometimes complicated.
Europe 1 : Trips are limited
The News head is vigilant and limits trips. Each journalist is asked to submit a proposal before a trip is accepted.
France 24 : These are accepted but not made public
France 24 refuses to cover – for a fee – the trip of a foreign president.
The editorial office is very attentive to the identity and status of people who offer to receive journalists.
Le Monde : It depends on the department
An editorial committee has been put in place to discuss the question of press trips. There are no formal rules. Practices vary according to the department – the Politics department refuses all trips but this does not apply to other departments. The Tourism department applies rules to explain how articles are put together.
Any journalist can refuse to take part in a press trip without justifying why. Taking part in a press trip should not commit a journalist to write an article and if an article is written, it will never include a reference to ‘special correspondent’
Ouest France : These are rare and not made public.
In the rare event of an offer of a press trip, the editorial management decides whether or not to accept it.
What can be accepted are trips proposed by tourist agencies or by individual sports event organisers, such as sailing or car racing.
Also acceptable are trips for an event which includes a contribution from the newspaper.
It is not specified in the article that it is a press trip.
Berliner Zeitung : These are authorised but not made public.
If a journalist has been embedded in the army, the conditions in which they have obtained their information are usually identifiable from the article content.
ZDF : Conditions defined by the charter…
The Irish Times : Rare and made public
Press trips are not very common. Decisions are always taken collectively and the context in which the article has been written is always made known to the readers.
Polskie Radio, kanal 3 : External financing
Working in the field always requires external financing and, in the end, nobody is really concerned about what is ‘given’ in exchange, for instance, if content has to be adapted.
Editorial has very little financial resources and this is always the subject of bitter discussions. To cover the events in Israel and Palestine in July 2014, for example, journalists had to wait one week for a decision.
Outside of current affairs, the Foreign Minister can facilitate trips but only under conditions that they define, which generally means in order to report on their mutual aid projects. Once in place, the journalist can use the opportunity to cover additional subjects.
BBC : Accepted but financed by the media
Press trips are accepted on condition they are paid for by the BBC.
The principle of embedded journalists is accepted if there is no other way to access a war zone. This is how journalists went to Afghanistan and Iraq with the British Army, US Army and the Taliban. Filming conditions are clearly indicated when the report is broadcast.
The Guardian : Accepted and made public
In 2010 The Guardian reinforced the rules for press trips. They must be declared in the article.
The newspaper will reimburse the occasional costs of a press trip organised by the government.
Embedded reporting has long been accepted and is always made public.