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.