Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Preparing for a news conference

As part of BBC School Report News Day you may find yourself attending a news conference (also known as a press conference). Perhaps your school wants to hold one itself. But what exactly is a news conference, and what can you expect when you attend one?

What is a news conference?

A news conference is an event organised by an organisation, company or individual to which journalists are invited.

Press conference at Bradford Media Museum
These EastEnders stars take questions from students

There are two key reasons for holding a news conference.

Firstly, if there is a big event that many journalists are enquiring about, a news conference is a good way of answering all the questions in one go instead of taking many individual phone calls.

Secondly, a news conference is useful if you have an event or product you want to publicise that journalists and the public are currently unaware of.

An alternative to a news conference is a photo opportunity. This normally allows the media to witness an event, such as the prime minister greeting a world leader at Downing Street, but there is unlikely to be a statement or an opportunity to ask questions.

How do we get to a news conference?

If it concerns a breaking news story, a news conference is normally hastily-arranged and journalists are informed of it over the telephone.

In most other cases, a news conference will be announced through the publication of a press release or advisory sent to various news organisations.

The advisory is normally sent well in advance and should contain all the relevant details, such as the date, time and venue of the news conference as well as a contact name and telephone number of the organiser.

Local councils often publish press releases on their website, and these are a good source of information.

How should we prepare for a news conference?

If you have received a press release, it should contain details explaining why the news conference is being held, what topics will be discussed and who will be speaking. It should also specify if there will be an opportunity for journalists to ask questions - a very important consideration for reporters!

School Reporters at Downing Street
Turn up in plenty of time for your interviews

It is a good idea before the news conference to consider how you would want to cover the story - for instance what information you want to learn about the event, who you want to hear from and whether you need any photos, TV or radio footage. You might want to organise a one-to-one interview with one of the speakers, particularly if you are doing a TV or radio report.

Once you have an idea about how you want to proceed you can take steps to make this happen. This will probably involve ringing the news conference organiser to check whether you will be able to ask questions, arrange for separate interviews, and set up times to get the photographic and TV footage you need. (Getting some of the interviews or footage done in advance of the press conference is even better!).

It is also useful to have a mobile number for the news conference organiser, and the names and contact numbers for any other organisers there on the day.

What can you expect to happen at a news conference?

News conferences can be very hectic affairs, and the organiser is likely to be very busy and difficult to get hold of.

This is when a little bit of forward planning pays off, because hopefully you will have an idea of how the news conference will run, when you are likely to be able to ask questions and whether you can do one-to-one interviews and get the footage you want.

Make sure you arrive in plenty of time. You may be given an identity badge and a press pack with more details about the event. It is useful to make contact with the news conference organiser and run through anything already agreed.

If you are making an audio report, you will want to set up your microphone near to those who are speaking. If you have a video camera, you might have to set up near the back of the room, but make sure you get a clear shot of the speakers. A tripod is useful in these circumstances.

The news conference normally begins with one or more speakers giving the details they want to impart to journalists. A question-and-answer session normally follows, allowing journalists to press the speakers further on what they have said.

It is usually after this has finished that the speakers will made available for one-to-one interviews. If you have already arranged this through the organiser, hopefully it will be very straightforward. Otherwise, you may be involved in a media scrum to try and speak to them, or have to listen in on the interviews they are giving other journalists.

What to do with the material after the news conference?

When many journalists attend a particular news conference, their news editors will be keen to get it on air or into print as quickly as possible - otherwise they will be beaten to it by their rivals and lose their audience.

School Reporters in 2009
Note-taking helps you remember what was said

Quite often, a print journalist will file a report to their newsdesk as soon as the press conference has finished, while TV and radio reporters will report "live" from the venue.

If it is a fairly straightforward story and you already have lots of detail, you can prepare your news article in advance. Then, once your reporter at the news conference has rung in with some quotes from the speakers, you are ready to publish.

Remember to keep your report balanced. A press conference normally gives you one side of the story. Is there an opposing view that needs to be reflected in your story?

How do we run our own press conference?

Make sure you know what it is you want to publicise. Journalists are busy people so you need to make sure you have a strong story or message, otherwise they are unlikely to turn up.

Think about who you want to contact. It will most likely be the local newspaper, and your local TV and radio stations. Let the BBC School Report team know as well as we might be able to send someone too!

Send out your press release in plenty of time giving key details such as the date, time, venue, a summary of what the press conference is about, who will be speaking and a contact name and number.

Follow up with the people who have received your press release to find out who is interested in attending. This will help you to plan the press conference itself.

It helps to give journalists as much detail about an event as possible. Perhaps you could put together a press pack before the event with plenty of detail, quotes from relevant people and some photographs. Think about what you can offer TV and radio journalists in terms of people to interview and footage they can get.

On the day, it is important to be organised. Make sure:

• You check off the names of journalists attending, and they know where they need to go

• There is an area for microphones to be positioned close to the speakers, and TV cameras can get a clear view of the speakers

• That speakers have been briefed about what they should say - and that they don't speak for too long!

• Journalists are allowed the opportunity to ask questions. If necessary, make time at the end for journalists to carry out one-to-one interviews with the speakers, and ensure assistance is available for photographers, TV and radio journalists to get the footage they need.


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