March 25, 2003

Conference representatives not speaking if a reporter is present

In an article discussing conferences and reporters, Edward Felten writes concerning companies not wanting conference representatives to speak to the press:

I have to admit that I find these companies' policies hard to understand. A company trusts somebody to speak on its behalf in a public forum, where many of the company's competitors and customers are present, and where everybody is welcome to take notes. And yet somehow it is too dangerous to let that employee say the same things if a reporter is also present.

I don't find it hard to understand at all. While one can disagree with the decision, and argue a different cost-benefit tradeoff, it is rational. If a reporter is present, the chances go way up that minor flub or misstatement by a speaker, one which competitors and customers would let pass in context, may be blown-up into a huge scandal by a reporter looking for a hobby-horse story to write. I just collected a bunch of resources for the infamous Al Gore "Invented the Internet" smear. It was something basically fabricated by a reporter who deliberately decided to spin a few words of very reasonable reply from Al Gore about his achievements, into an absurd technical claim. The company is probably thinking, "All we need is for one of our people to reply sarcastically, to make a joke about something, and then there's the headline ``Company admits plans for world domination''".

Heck, I could write it:

Disassociated Press: Speaking at the Blather Conference, engineers from InsertNameHere candidly admitted that BuzzWord was really a secret plot for world domination. The shocking admission came during a question-and-answer period, where an audience member asked "Aren't you trying to take over the world here?". Engineer Patsy was clearly heard to reply "Yeah, you betcha we are". This represents the first outright admission of what has been criticism for months, by industry insiders and political outsiders ...

And of course, the defense of the article would be that Engineer Patsy really said those words - necessarily passing over the fact that in context, they were a sarcastic reply to a not entirely serious question. In fact, I based the above item on the attack on Gore for telling a "Union Label" joke, which I saw again when digging up some references for the above Invented-The-Internet page.

Now, once more, it's possible to argue about the trade-offs, that credulous press coverage will outweigh attacking press coverage. But it's certainly not hard to understand why it can be very attractive to have a policy of never dealing with the press other than through professional flacks.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on March 25, 2003 04:56 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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