Journalists at Conferences

Mark Thoma gets a taste of what it’s like to be a journalist at a conference:

Because I’m a blogger, they gave me a press pass. That’s kind of cool I guess, or so I thought at first, but it doesn’t give you any extra privileges except a separate work area I had no use for. It’s like a cat bell that tells people you might report on what they say, and that makes some of them reluctant to answer questions. It took me awhile to realize that.

I did giggle a bit at the idea that a press pass would ever give anybody "extra privileges". But then I thought about it a bit more, and realized that sometimes those press rooms can be very useful (as a place to plug in your laptop, for starters), and that every so often, at larger conferences, there are press conferences which give journalists an opportunity to ask questions of otherwise largely inaccessible figures.

Sometimes, when a big-name politician is speaking, there will be a room full of conference delegates, and the press will be relegated to the back somewhere. The speaker will offer to take questions, and the press will be specifically barred from asking questions at that point: there will probably be a scrum later in any event. But non-journalists seem to be incredibly reluctant to ask any questions at all in such a setting, let alone the big questions which are on everybody’s mind: they seem to be quite happy to leave such questioning to the press.

The "cat bell" aspect of the press designation is very deliberate: it makes sense that people will talk differently when they think they might be quoted. It can be a bit annoying for we journalists, but you do get used to it after a while. What’s worse is when journalists are allowed only into certain sessions, or lazily told that everything is off the record, even when the speakers don’t actually mind being quoted. And don’t even get me started on Davos.

Then, of course, there are many conferences which are completely and genuinely off the record, where no journalists are even allowed. If you’ve been to such conferences, do tell: does the absence of journalists make a difference? Do speakers tend to be looser/juicier? Or are those conferences much like any other conference really?

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.