Aug. 17, 2004
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Tips For Running An Effective Newsroom at a Professional Scientific Meeting

by Paul Lowenberg
Lowenberg Communications
Seattle, WA

Be a guide dog, not a guard dog

Your job is to understand the needs of the media and help them track down the people and resources they need. It is not your role to keep reporters from talking to newsmakers, tell them what questions to ask, monitor interviews, or push your own views or opinions. You should also help the speakers know what to expect from media and to anticipate questions and controversial issues. Make yourself relevant and useful to reporters. And, know when to leave them alone to do their job!

Plan ahead

Some reporters may want to interview key speakers or presenters before the meeting starts, or at least they may want to set up an interview in advance. You may also want to contact the featured speakers or presenters before the meeting to learn if and when they will be available to talk to reporters, where they are staying, how to get in touch with them at the meeting, and alerting them to advance media interest their topic.

Coffee and danish are important, but not as important as good information Keeping the coffee urn filled and ordering the pastries is not the most important job in the newsroom. Keeping the flow of relevant information coming is. Know where to find your key interview subjects either in person, by telephone or email. Have copies of papers, press releases, articles, meeting programs, abstracts or any other pertinent information readily available in the newsroom. Phone lines, fax machines, Internet connections, and copiers are important, too.

Understand how the media works

You will work with reporters from different time zones and different countries. Some will have deadlines of an hour, some a month, or some not at all. Find out their deadlines and work within them. Some will want TV interviews, others radio interviews, others telephone interviews, and others to talk with the subject in person. They may also ask you to find sources that do not agree with your interview subject. Some reporters may understand the topic as well as the people they interview; others may be clueless and need help just figuring out what questions to ask.

Caffeine, chocolate and sex

What talks and presentations are most likely to generate widespread media coverage? Put any of these three words in the title of a talk and you are guaranteed media coverage. Try to tell in advance which stories are likely to get good media play. Even if you do, you may still be in for some surprises about what stories are of interest. Some reporters already know what they want to cover, but others may want your help in figuring out what is important or interesting. You should also be aware of how the focus of your meeting fits into a larger context. Is what is going on there relevant to other news of the day? Could the organization's officers be useful in providing commentary about some significant event in the news? It is important to anticipate sudden requests from the news media based on current breaking events. Part of your role should be to alert speakers to be prepared for unplanned media requests.

Establish newsroom policies well in advance

Be tougher than the door guard at a New York nightspot. Establish policies for newsroom access in advance of the meeting, let everyone know clearly what they are, then stick to them. Are you willing to allow public relations or special interest people into the newsroom to meet with the media? If the answer is no, then donít let them in. Will you allow organizations other than yours to leave press materials in your newsroom? Are you willing to share your press registration list with public relations firms or other parties? These are some of the decisions you need to make before the meeting starts.





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