Conference organizers are usually happy—or at least tolerant—when reporters seek to cover a meeting. Sometimes they even treat us like royalty. But sometimes someone behind the registration desk with a Napoleon complex chooses to make things difficult.
Here’s an awful story told by a friend of mine who works for a medical trade paper, which happens to be a small part of a much larger parent company. I’ve changed all identifying details:
"Now's the time to tell you guys about a horrible experience I had a few weeks ago. I was sent to a meeting in [big city]. I arrived very enthusiastic about it because I had in fact asked to go to it. It was about a . . . disorder which my daughter has. My husband and daughter trailed along, also enthusiastically, since this was one of those meetings which has an entirely separate program geared towards patients and families.
"First Mistake: I didn't call ahead of time to confirm that I was welcome. When I showed up at the media registration the secretary's face turned to stone. "OH, you are [Large Parent Company]," she announced grimly. Well, I never introduce myself in such a way, but sure enough, it's written in boldface on my business card and on the letter from [trade paper]. How could I deny it? There was some muttering and heated discussion between the organizers in the back of the room, a couple of hurried cell phone calls, and then she handed over the badge, albeit very reluctantly. I scurried off, anxious to get lost in the crowd before she changed her mind.
"Second Mistake: I relaxed. It was a very stressful meeting to cover because of all the patients who swarmed the docs and made it impossible for me to get close. I flagged one of the meeting room organizers at one point and asked her if she could help me corner a couple of docs. She, at least, was enthusiastic about my presence, even saying "Well, for a reporter, we'll do everything we can to help." NOT!!! Although she successfully re-routed traffic and helped me snatch a few quick words with a couple of docs, I quickly realized I'd have to play catch-up once I got home, so I decided to just concentrate on gathering business cards at every opportunity. Bad Move. I approached my next target, introduced myself, and went on to explain what I was doing. Then, "The Request" for his e-mail address. The secretary who didn't like me reared up from behind him somewhere (they are on the podium and I am several feet below), steam blowing out of her ears. She was furious. "It is absolutely inappropriate for you to be soliciting the speakers. Who are you?" I reminded her who I was and she practically blew her top. "You are not even legitimate, credentialed press."
"I spent several frantic minutes trying to explain to this woman that [my paper’s] stuff is FREE for docs, FREE!!! But no, that part was not heard. I can't tell you how frustrated I was, particularly because, as I said, we have had such familiarity with this disorder in our family, and I KNOW how much lack of awareness there is about it among doctors. This was the main theme of the meeting, and yet they were trying to banish the one reporter who could have addressed that issue!
"I won't bore you with the whole long and confusing story. I stalked her down later and tried, unsuccessfully to get an explanation. I received the cold shoulder from both organizing physicians who wouldn't speak to me on the phone or return my e-mails. I know it's not personal, but it's hard not to be hurt by such rude, unprofessional and hostile behavior. Now I am struggling to write these stories and I am feeling so fed up and discouraged. All I want is an explanation (I believe there is some kind of ongoing dispute between [Big University], which organized the meeting, and [Large Parent Company] )and a sincere apology. Dream on!!
"I found a week or so later [that my editor had talked with the organizers before the meeting]. Weirdly, they had been totally fine with it, so I still do not know what the problem was. It was definitely my connection to [Large Parent Company] that totally spooked the woman, but what scared me was how she managed to poison all her colleagues against me too, and this EVEN before I had managed to contact any of them. Such a horrible feeling of being gagged, silenced, without even the chance to explain yourself. I felt so frustrated that I had been judged so harshly and had no recourse, but I guess that's me taking things WAY too personally. . ."
If any other medical journalists wish to relate funny, horrifying, or instructive stories about conference coverage, I'd be happy to put them here, and I'll keep you anonymous if you wish. Just email them to me at medmeeting(at)gmail(dot)com.