Tom Foremski, over at Silicon Valley Watcher, notes that the Churchill Club teamed up with USA Today on an event about the future of media -- and barred the press. I enjoyed Tom's humorous call for assistance (I LOL at the picture he posted), but unfortunately found out about this travesty too late to weigh in before the event.
As Tom put it, "How quaintly dictatorial. No press, no lunch, no questions."
USA Today calls itself the "nation's newspaper." It should be embarrassed to be a part of such a thing. I hope Kevin Maney, the moderator of the program (and someone I like and admire), isn't planning to write a story or column off of this no-press-allowed event.
UPDATE: See Kevin's response below.
The Churchill Club expansively tells us its mission is about information, individuals, ideas -- and then pulls an absurd move like this.
Absurd how? Here's how. If there was a non-journalist blogger in the room, he or she is under no obligation to keep what was said a secret.
The Wall Street Journal learned about the new world two years ago, at the first "D: All Things Digital" conference. The gathering was officially off the record (and working journalists were asked to agree to this in advance), but that didn't stop bloggers from ably covering the thing. The Journal changed its policy the next year.
Back to the Churchill Club silliness: I'm hoping that we'll see a report soon on a blog. And if anyone who was attending wishes to be a guest blogger here, I'll be happy to accommodate you.
Kevin Maney responds:
Concerns about the no-press policy -- which we only started hearing about after the event -- have made us rethink the way we'd handle it next year. Yes, it does seem silly in this day and age. But a little history helps explain why the policy was that way in the first place.
This event grew out of something USA Today had been doing for many years: getting a group of tech CEOs together to talk about a hot industry issue. In the past, we always did it in a USAT conference room -- where, of course, there would be no other press and no general public. We'd get a discussion going, edit the transcripts, then put it in the paper.
About 18 months ago, I suggested that an audience might enjoy seeing those discussions live, and that it would add some excitement. After trying to figure out how to do it, we contacted Churchill and suggested a joint event. We'd get the panel together and use the transcripts in the paper a week later -- so we could take time to edit and package the material well. Churchill would gather an audience and take care of logistics.
That left us with a concern about getting scooped about our own panel. The first of these events took place last May. We decided to bar other press. To give you an idea about how much things have changed so quickly, last year we heard not a peep about that policy. This year, of course, it's different. We just automatically went with the same policy, but maybe that's not the right way to handle it in the future. We're all figuring out this new world as we go, and that's exactly what's happening here.
I'd like to think that the Churchill panel is an act of openness on our part. We could've kept doing the panels in closed rooms. Instead, we chose to let others in on the process. We're trying to do the right thing, not the wrong thing.
As for not taking audience questions, that's just a function of time. Five panelists, one hour. There is barely time for my questions, much less anyone else's.
As for no lunch... um... there is no free lunch.
My response: Had I known about this method in last year's panel, I would have objected then. If you're going to invite the public to an event, invite the entire public. Period.
You expect this kind of thing from the Bush administration and other information control freaks. A newspaper should know better.