Down the Rabbit Hole, Pt. 2

Subject: Down the Rabbit Hole, Pt. 2
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l digest recipients <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 10:57:27 -0700

Having just made it back from my first conference as a
journalist, I thought I'd mention a few random lessons I've
learned from the experience:

First, take extra luggage for the freebies. That's true for
anyone who attends a trade fair, but it's worth repeating.
Between the press kits, the T-shirts (10 of them), the CDs, the
pens, the beer mugs and coffee cups, I needed an extra carry-on
by the time I checked out. I'll probably send most of this stuff
to the Sally Ann, and use the T-shirts for running, but I had no
time to do more than a preliminary sorting while I was there.
Fortunately, the conference had thoughtfully included a
leather-bottomed knapsack when I'd registered.

Second, if you've attended a trade fair before, you'll find that
you're treated differently as a journalist. For one thing,
everybody (writers and non-writers both) seem to have a hierarchy
of writers firmly embedded in their minds. From bottom to top,
seems to go: tech-writer, journalist, fiction writer. So, as a
journalist, you find that you have a somewhat higher status than
as a tech-writer. Some stone techies will still assume that you
have trouble with velcro shoe straps, but they also realize that
you can give them considerable more grief than a tech-writer
(Memo: It's FUN watching these people's natural scorn battle with
their caution!).

More importantly, however, people are at once more respectful and
more wary. They're more respectful because they want good press.
They're wary because they don't want to make the wrong contact.
In a few cases, people asked me to talk to someone else at the
company rather than them, because they didn't want to say the
wrong thing. I'm still trying to decide how ethical it is not to
announce my position at the start of conversations. I do know
that, if you want people to trust you, you should scrupulously
observe the "off-the-record" rule, and tell people aobut it as
soon as possible in a conversation

Third, because of the way that people treat journalists, the
informal settings are far more important than the formal ones. If
you talk to people at parties, or at breakfast or lunch, they
have more of a chance to see you as human, and treat you

Four, unless you're after a specific story, don't expect to talk
privately with all the big names and guests. Sometimes, the best
thing you can do is exchange a few words and your business cards,
so that you can contact them later. If you do just make a brief
contact, write down on the card you receive where you met the
person so that you can remind them when you phone or e-mail

Five, get to know your fellow journalists. You'll learn the ropes
and get some leads that way.

Six, stay on good terms with the media relations people for the
conference. Be reasonable with them, and remember that they're
harried. You'll never know when you need a favor.

Finally, if anyone is lucky enough to go to an event at the
Monterey Convention Center, don't stay at one of the Center
hotels. Stay at the Monterey Hotel, a refurbished Edwardian hotel
that's two minutes away, but a different world altogether from
any conference about technology.

Bottom line: if you've got any extrovert in you whatsoever,
you'll love crusing a conference as a journalist (you'll be
tired, but you'll love it). It's extended my field study of geeks
more than I can say (partly because I'm still deciphering the
field notes). Move over, Jane Goodall!

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189

"Better a good run than a bad stand." -James Keelaghan

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