Journalists are an important part of the information flow in the investment management community. We help disseminate news, information and even knowledge. But we don't work in a vacuum. We need to learn about the fields we cover and the players in those fields, as well as what our readers want to read and what's news and what's not.
There are two main ways we learn what we need to learn: by reading and by talking to sources. Journalists by nature are ravenous readers, so the reading part is pretty straight forward. Until recently, I thought the "talking to sources" part was straight forward, too.
Journalists cultivate and nurture sources by talking to them by phone, meeting them in person and attending conferences. All three are important, and we pursue them vigorously. We get the biggest bang for our buck by attending conferences, where we can talk to dozens of people in a day, and maybe even hundreds over the course of the conference.
But we are encountering an increasing number of detours and outright barriers on the conference route. Among them:
• After reporters from Pensions & Investments and elsewhere had paid their registration, flown to Arizona and checked into their hotel rooms to attend the May meeting of the Association of Investment Management Sales Executives, an AIMSE executive informed them all of the key sessions would be closed to them. (I was allowed in, however, and I didn't ask why.) This came on top of the fact that AIMSE already had a policy prohibiting journalists from reporting on anything said at the conference without going back to the speaker and asking for permission.
• Organizers of the Global ARC Congress, a hedge fund and alternative investing conference that P&I has been involved with in the past, decided to close the event to the press this year. Despite that decision, they expected Mike Clowes, editorial director of P&I, to moderate a panel. Mike declined, explaining we will not be involved in a conference with a no-press policy.
• P&I executives higher up the totem pole than I am are in the early stages of planning a conference (I think on hedge funds) that will probably not be open to the press. I'm just itching for a fight over this one — if they have the nerve to ask editorial for any help.
The conferences ban the press to make it easier to get speakers, because some potential speakers back out when they hear the media will be in attendance.
There's some irony in this trend toward restricting or outright barring the press from conferences. That is, if you look at a handful of conference brochures, you'll see many of them have media sponsors — sometimes a dozen or more. Although P&I only rarely puts its name on a conference that is not our own, many other media outlets do so routinely.
The way things are going, journalists at these sponsoring media companies will be prohibited from covering the conferences their employers are sponsoring. Ironic, definitely. Moronic, absolutely, assuming these employers continue to sponsor conferences that are closed to their own journalists.
I imagine there are many P&I readers who would wholeheartedly support a "no journalists" policy at the conferences at which they speak, or which they attend. I also imagine those same people would stop reading P&I if the stories were no longer relevant. Yet, if reporters aren't allowed to attend conferences, they will be cut off from a critical avenue for finding those issues and story ideas that are most relevant to their readers.
I am eager to read or listen to your thoughts on this conundrum. Please e-mail me at [email protected] or call me at 312-649-5284 with your comments.