Press conferences: how to use it?
Press conferences: how to use it?
Press conferences are often a valuable source of news for
journalists. However, they can often pose difficult problems for inexperienced
(and even experienced!) journalists. Below is a list of check points to
1) Is it worth going?Do not automatically assume that
every press conference merits your attention. Some will not. If possible, try to
find out as much as you can beforehand, and assess the likely news value of the
story. If the news value is low, you can perhaps just write a few paragraphs
based on what you know from the organiser's press release / fax etc.
2) Yes, its worth going. But what do I want from
it?First, you want to understand the story, and prepare some
questions based on it. There will usually be some sort of printed sheet
available. If you don't see one, ask in case you've missed it. If the organisers
say they have run out of copies, make a polite fuss and explain how they really
should have prepared more ... you will often find a spare copy turns up. You'll
usually want a short, good quality interview with the principal speaker (s)
covering the principal points. To get the interview you'll need to get close to
the speaker (s), with a tape recorder that works! There are times when you will
NOT need an interview, but they are rare.
3) The table is too far away. I can't get close. What do I do?
Don't panic. At some point, preferably before the action starts,
speak to the organisers and tell them you need an interview. Tell them the table
is too far away, and anyway you don't want to record the whole meeting, you need
specific answers to specific questions, face to face. (If the organisers are
reluctant, push the point. What is the purpose of a press conference? It is to
allow the press to get the story. If they want publicity on radio, the best
publicity is an interview etc. etc. ). Of course, there are occasions when it
will not be possible to get the speaker close-up, eg, a VIP etc. But you can
still try. Find a good vantage point, where you expect the VIP to pass, and
shout your question as they go by. Many journalists succeed in getting a few
valuable words from VIPs in this way. VIPs are accustomed to media attention.
The worst they can do is ignore you. If anyone complains, you have a water tight
defence: you are just doing your job.
4) Oh no ... I've arrived too late! I've missed the important bits ..
what do I do?Don't worry, be happy. You should still try for an
interview, and you can ask the following kind of questions without anyone
realising you don't know anything: "What for you is the most important point
about today's meeting?" "What do you say to people who disagree with you on
this?" "What is the next step on this issue?"
5) I've got the interview, what now?Check that you are
right. Is the interview recorded? If not, do it again. Remember, after the
PC and the interview, you may know everything about the story, but your news
editor knows far less. If the press conference has produced some sort of
dramatic news, controversial opinion, accusation, defence, statistics etc., then
find a telephone and quickly send a short resume (if you are redio reporter).
This does not have to be a despatch, just a few lines will be sufficient for the
moment. The point is you will be able to get the main details of the story
Remember that your job at a press conference is NOT somehow to re-create the
atmosphere of the press conference. The PC is NOT the story. Your job is simply
to report the basic details of what was said, by whom, about what. There is no
point in recording for half an hour, use a pen and paper instead! Handwritten
notes are quicker to check than a long cassette recording.
Some journalists regard a press conference as a chance to perform in front
of their colleagues, to ask long, grand-sounding questions, to monopolise the
floor, even to make impolite comments about other reporters, and of course to
hang around afterwards putting the world to rights. Don't be intimidated, don't
get dragged into discussions, don't feel small. You may be inexperienced, that
does not mean you are insignificant. Some of the best questions are often asked
by inexperienced reporters. Remember the Emperor's New Clothes.
Apart from these few notes, it is difficult to talk in theoretical terms
about how to handle a press conference. Only press conferences can teach you how
to handle press conferences. Your natural, initial reaction upon arrival may be
"What is going on? Who's who? Where do I start?" But relax, keep your ears and
eyes open, be polite, be confident, be courageous. The picture will clear in
time, and somewhere in that room is the person who will give an interview to
illustrate your story. All you have to do is wait, watch, and it should soon
become apparent who you need to speak to. When you've spotted your target, wait
for your chance, when it comes, grab it. Watch for free goodies too .. coffee,
cakes, pens. But to sum up, it's this: Get in, get the story, and get out.