Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What do reporters think of the 'media table'?

If you attend a lot of business luncheons and conferences, I'm sure you've seen it.

If you're a journalist, you've been told to sit there.

I'm talking about the Media Table; the half-empty stall in the corner where a cluster of journalists do their best to make small talk, having sat in the same company on numerous previous occasions. Heck, they may have just spent the morning together, at a news conference.

There may be some wisdom in segregating media to a table of their own. If there is, I’d like to hear it. Because I think it’s a mistake to do so.

Last year, I handled media relations for a conference of local business leaders. I had confirmation from two or three reporters, so, when the organizers asked how many would be sitting at the media table, I told them none. They were surprised when I said there wouldn’t be a media table, and that reporters would sit with the rest of the guests.

The reason? First, I think reporters are bored of seeing so much of each other. It’s also awkward when there is an unpleasant vibe between competing outlets and/or individual personalities.

Second, I think it’s healthy for reporters to mix with the rest of humanity. They hear what other people are saying about the issues and may even get some decent story ideas.

Third, I think the invited guests also welcome the opportunity to meet reporters, who have a higher public profile and thus a certain air of ‘celebrity’. Many people would be eager to bend the ear of a reporter with their opinions and story ideas, if given the opportunity.

The only potential downside, of course, is the chance that an off-the-cuff remark or revelation could end up on the evening’s news. To mitigate this, you need to make sure everyone at the table knows a reporter is present (most reporters are quick to introduce themselves for this reason).

At the conference referenced above, I actually sat with one of the media people, the editor of a local magazine. One of the conference presenters joined us, and the conversation was animated and interesting. The editor contributed extensively to the discussion, and took away a great deal as well.

Several weeks later, the many threads of that discussion formed the fabric of the Editor’s column at the front of the magazine. And a good column it was! That wouldn’t have happened if media had been consigned to a lonely table at the back of the room.

What do other reporters think about this? Do you prefer to gather at the media table, or would you rather blend into the crowd and sit where you please? If you have an opinion, please post a comment.


Anonymous said...

Good post.

I am of mixed mind when it comes to a media table. Having arranged a number of events with a media table; the reasons are many. I acknowledge that the "main" reason for such a table was because of tradition and frankly I used this as the due dilligence to have one.

I agree with your points and the fact that other perspectives could form a good story when the media are associated/joined with the guests. While this is a good result, I would also be hesitant that some reporters would be fishing for stories as a result of unsuspecting guests. The problem for some participants is that they may not realize that reporters are always working and they do not take time off during the lunch portion of the event.

As well, there are some media organizations that prefer that their staff not avail of the "free lunch" Some say that a stuffed chicken breast could compromise thier approach to the story. While this is nonsical, some reporters have sat at the reporters table and not eaten lunch......without a media table this could be awkward for some!

At least I will now judge the appropriateness of a media table for each event.

Anonymous said...

It can depend on the complexity of the event. If it's a large luncheon, big enough to warrant a pool feed for the broadcast media, then I think we would definitely prefer to be in a centralized location where we can plug in and monitor our devices. For TV people, the media table is a convenient place to stash excess gear without bothering other guests. With smaller events, it probably doesn't matter as much, but I think overall it's more convenient for journalists to have a place to go to set up their equipment without having to hunt for a place to sit.

Anonymous said...

nothing to do with tables....., but a good CNN story on a reporters perspective in Baghdad and the reporting of a story

Anonymous said...

The "rubber chicken circuit" as it is often called is a mixed blessing. Reporters love and hate these events.

The reason is simple; rarely is there anything truly newsworthy happening at these events. Most often, the media shows up because the keynote speaker is is someone of note and the dinner is a formality before the scrum.

But for most, the meal is welcome.

Media tables are convenient for broadcast journos. The two-ton pencil needs to go somewhere and the media table is usually the best option.

There is, however, something to be said for sitting at tables with other guests. It has never resulted in a good story for me personally, but business cards get exchanged, Blackberries get "PINned" and contacts established. That has a greater value than any one story.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Great post on a real "meat-and-potatoes" issue, if you can pardon the pun.

In my own experience, I've usually reserved a media table so the working stiffs have a place to stash their gear. Even the print people come with recorders and other baggage.

I don't recall that i have ever insisted that people sit at the media table versus mixing in, if that was practical.

You and your commenters are right. Very often the ability to sit and chat with the people attending a function yields a lot of rich material if not for the story of the day then for future reference.

Sometimes it also helps to de-mystify reporters for people who seldom if ever deal with them in their natural habitat. I am sure you have had the same experience all of us in the Dark Side have had, namely of the bad attitudes that have changed dramatically or even just a touch from discovering reporters are reasonably intelligence creatures with lives of their own, bosses to deal with and an interest in getting the story right, not just in printing or airing whatever salacious bit of stuff comes their way.

Anonymous said...

As a participant in some of those luncheons I always preferred to have the reporters " known " to me. That way I could judge what should ( or could ) be said.

Reporters should come with warning bells. No offense of course :):)! Enjoy your meals!!