Thursday, 24 January 2008

Press conferences

This week, my work placement at GP newspaper has given me a great insight into how the big media cogs turn as they churn out the news.

On Tuesday, I visited NICE offices in Holborn for a press conference.

That sentence is a little misleading because although the offices were indeed very nice, it is actually an acronym for the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (or the National institute for Curbing Expenditure as a cynical doctor once told me).

As GP goes to press on Tuesdays, I was sent out as the lone reporter to cover the story *gulp*.

Among the journos gathered were reporters from The Times, The Guardian, two from the BBC and er, one from The Daily Express.

When we were given the opportunity to ask questions, David Rose from The Times put his hand up quicker than me and said what I was going to say.

I felt like the nerdy kid trying to impress teacher and getting all bitter because someone else got in there first - particularly as they kept saying what a good question it was.

Cut throat stuff.

The next day I went to the Department of Health for a big announcement on tackling obesity.

(Tackling obesity - much easier than tackling skinny)

All the same faces from the previous day's press conference were there and it made me feel part of a community - albeit, one a bit like facebook where you have a passing recognition of the people there, can publicly see what they've written and avoid communicating with them in real life.

Two cabinet ministers, Alan Johnson and Ed Balls conducted the briefing.

According to my colleague from GP, it was quite a boring one as far as these things go.

In terms of seeing how the media operates though, there were a number of things I found interesting.

Firstly, the press are cynical bastards and rightly so.

An amusing situation arises whereby the media and the politicians take up these polar opposite roles.

Media-trained politicians try to answer questions with a breezy charm while the po-faced hacks get all angry cutting through the bullshit eminating from our country's leaders.

I think I'm still at the naive stage where I think the people at the front are actually trying to make a difference.

Secondly, cabinet members have some pretty impressive staff buzzing around them.

As soon as somebody asks a difficult question the guys at the front fob off the journalist with meaningless dirge, while the staff at the back start scurrying around looking for the answer.

Within a minute, somebody's hand goes up and you get a "would you like me to field that one minister?"

I want people like that for my exams.

Lastly, it's quite odd seeing what major point the papers pick out from the press conference and decide is the news.

Today's papers mostly said stuff like "fatties are to get paid to lose weight".

Alan Johnson said in the press conference that cash incentives for weight loss are a tiny part of a huge strategy on obesity but that's what the papers ran with.

Politicians and journalists both have their own agendas.

This makes it very difficult to understand the truth behind stuff being pumped out of the big, weird news machine.

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