Press conferences suck

My friend Mark Sutter, editor of the Triad Business Journal, speaks truth about “press conferences.” 

Without fail, these announcements are ill-timed, ill-planned, ill-conceived and don’t serve the intended purpose, which one would suppose is to spread the word as widely as possible via the media. Instead, they have become part-political opportunity, part-ego stroke for the company expanding. In short, a dog-and-pony show on the taxpayer’s dime. “Press” conference? Hardly. Trust me when I say that few in the press ever feel it is done for their benefit.

Specifically, Mark is talking about economic development announcements, but I will extend it to include 90% of all press conferences in his comment. (The other 10% are those in which the press doesn’t already know the announcement. Think: the police chief announcing an arrest in a triple ax murder, John Edwards talking about his trial or me winning the $640 million lottery.)

As Mark noted, the news is often old news by the time the press conference is held.  When the news is good, government officials are like gossips trying not to tell a secret. And they’re not very good at it. Meanwhile, reporters are pretty good at what they do.

In most cases, the news conference does two things. It strokes the company and the local elected officials. It allows television news to get video to go with their news reports. But reporters for TV and newspapers don’t need it. And the public officials don’t really want to answer questions anyway.

What would happen if no journalist attended the governor’s news conference tomorrow? Nothing. The N&R has already broken the news of the announcement and the local TV stations have reported it. Won’t happen, though. Reporters will be there to dutifully record what happens, even though their readers and viewers already know it.

5 thoughts on “Press conferences suck

  1. Heck John, as Business Journal readers know, we reported on March 9 that the project we reported on last June was back on the fast track, the deal was imminent and that the landowner selling the property was Asheboro’s Jeff Schwarz. We don’t even like the story about how there’s gonna BE a press conference, that’s old news.

    • I’m working up to buying you a online Business Journal subscription for your birthday come September.

      • I appreciate that. You should comp me one because of this post; all 17 of my readers now know about what a visionary editor you are.

  2. I can think of one federal government-specific use for press conferences: access.

    The federal agencies I cover (HHS, CMS) are so locked-down and closed to the public that about the only time I get inside is for the rare news conference or scheduled interview. While the news conference itself may not be newsworthy, it does offer the opportunity for face time with officials I otherwise seldom see in person.

    Note that this is either a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Washington or on my own reporting skills … although if there was a class in J-school on circumventing federal security cordons, I slept through it.

    Also, this argument doesn’t apply to Congress, where there’s much more routine access to newsmakers and news conferences are almost invariably dog-and-pony shows.

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