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RON IN COMMON: A press conference with a difference


ERIC SMITH, [email protected]

RON IN COMMON: A press conference with a difference

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PRESS CONFERENCES can be run-of- the- mill. Unfortunately, some do not yield what is expected since the press corps present fails to ask the pertinent questions and can be satisfied with whatever is presented.

The most hurtful thing is when the reporters assigned to cover the various events simply fail not only to ask relevant questions, but no questions at all.

This may be why some people now treat a press conference as a big fluff event and some have debased them by holding one for the most frivolous of reasons. So very often what could be said in a press release and issued to the media is turned into a press conference without an appreciation of the time schedule the media must deal with, given the deadline driven environment in which radio, television, print and online operate. 

Most people don’t know the ideal time of day nor the day of week when to hold their press conference. 

Then most people do not recognise that there a production component of the job beyond simply getting an audio recording, some video, a still picture or for a reporter to take notes to tell the story. That is actually only the start of the process. These are all key elements to understand in holding a press conference otherwise the end product may be sloppy.

richard-sealyThat is why I applaud Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy (left), who held a press briefing recently to review the state of the sector for which he has responsibility. It was not flawless, but it was good.

Yes, it started a few minutes late, but I understand that was because Hugh Foster decided to wait the arrival of CBC’s videographer. Foster, a former educator, media man, tourism public relations expert and now consultant to the Minister, was the man who called and insisted that senior people from the media attended this breakfast media briefing.

Many media people are rather wary about being invited to breakfast, lunch or dinner, since no one must feel that a little food and some drink will be a catch for a few hungry journalists. We understand very well that there is no free meal.

The turnout was generally good and punctual. Yes, and most of the journalists did part-take of the breakfast along with the many industry officials who turned out.  

Stuart Layne from the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc; Dr Kerry hall from the Barbados Tourism Product Authority; the leaders from the Intimate Hotels of Barbados; Sue Springer from the BHTA; Hugh Riley from CTO; hotelier and columnist Adrian Loveridge and hotel executives Sunil Chatrani and Alvin Jemmott, wearing many hats, were among a lot of bigwigs in the industry who attended.

Even for the media members who tend to be a nosy bunch, the session allowed them to see who is Donna Cadogan, permanent secretary to Sealy, and until then an unknown for most.

One individual who stood out that morning for me was Maureen Holder, the moderator from CBC radio call-in programme. Patrick Hoyos was there, but Pat is hardly on radio these days and David Ellis had to leave within minutes of the start of Sealy’s presentation.

It was Monday morning and he had to be in the chair for Brass Tacks at 10. I had never met Holder, who hosts the programme twice weekly, in person before. But she was present and took it all in. No other talk-show host was present and missed a good opportunity to be briefed on a number of rather salient issues in the industry, rather than getting on air to talk balderdash or support someone calling in with rubbish. I am left to wonder whether Foster extended an invitation to the other talk show hosts.

Yes, many of the journalists and indeed those industry officials attending the session would have left better informed on a wide range of issues. The Tourism Minister clearly came across as a man on top of his portfolio and the issues therein. But, after so many years in the job, he certainly should be well grasped of the subject area.

tourism-2015He did not try to skirt the questions either, this is perhaps why the session may have gone on a little bit too long. If it is an annual event, hopefully, Foster will indicate from the outset what duration will be given the Q & A segment and event tell his boss during their preparation session what time to keep his overview.

It was a good session for the media, and given the urgency to get the information out as quickly as possible, it was obvious CBC jumped into the waters by putting out something the same night.

I must admit I did not see it, but from what I heard, CBC TV 8 did not realise the depth of the waters. One camera was at the event; they could not have gotten everything on audio. So the public got The Minister Speaks, which is always a turn-off and turn-away. Some cutaways of the audience, some video inserts of the various projects Sealy highlighted and the most salient points from the press conference would have lent itself to a solid half an hour presentation. But that would mean doing a production. A good thing from Sealy may have been totally spoilt and under-minded by CBC clumsiness.

But, out of it all came a lesson. It is an approach some other Ministers of Government should copy; certainly, Dr Denis Lowe and Dr David Estwick. Even the Leader of the Opposition should piggy back on this approach. But, it ought not to be limited to the political class, but to the senior public officers who should give a report on their areas of operation at least once a year.

I can speak for the entire media when I saw they would love to hear from the Chief Immigration officer, Erine Griffith; Chief Electoral officer, Angela Taylor; and Acting Comptroller of Customs, Annette Weekes. There is so much that people want to hear about areas under their charge but are only greeted with the sound of silence. 

Perhaps, Sealy and Foster can sell the concept to other politicians and even to the senior technocrats. It really is reporting to the public of Barbados using the media as the conduit.  Going to the BGIS will not work. Press conference from those highlighted can be a win-win proposition.

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