Conventions and Press – Friends or Foes?

If you’ve been to a comic book convention, horror convention or any number of nerdy events, you may have noticed some members of the press around. Toting cameras, carrying microphones, setting up tripods… these people are generally rushing around, snapping pictures and hurrying off to tape interviews.

Why the Press is There

Most conventions are aware of the role the press plays in helping their convention. Pictures, videos, and articles about the convention can help a convention grow from year to year.

For example, if people see a gallery of cosplayers from a convention, they might want to attend the next one just so they can hang out with these talented folk and maybe even show off their own cosplay skill. If they see a video interview with an actor or actress they admire from that convention, they might want to attend the next one because the convention has cool guests. If they read an article about all the fun events at a con, they might put the next one on their calendar. Watching a video of a panel at an event might make them want to be one of the fans who gets to ask a question.

The relationship between conventions and the press should be a mutually beneficial one. The convention gets exposure, and essentially free advertising for their next event. The press outlet gets content for their audience. It’s a win-win.

However, there have been a few conventions that don’t seem to know what to do with the press. Or tend to make the jobs of those press members very difficult.

Celebrity Interviews and Panels

Now, convention press who wish to interview guests or record panels are aware that these activities are at the discretion of the guests involved. As a member of the press myself, when I ask a manager or celebrity for an interview and they decline, that’s the end of the story. Guests at cons have the right to privacy and to decide whether or not they should be taped. They might also have viewed a list of media outlets prior to the convention and agreed to interviews with only a few of them. Or they could also be under a contract that disallows them from giving interviews unless it is approved by the network on which their show appears.

The same reasoning applies to panels. There might be panels where recording is not allowed due to the network’s guidelines or the preferences of the guests.

Vic Mignogna being interviewed at Katsucon.
Vic Mignogna being interviewed at Katsucon.

However, sometimes the guests want to be interviewed to promote their latest work, talk about upcoming projects, connect with fans on social media or even advocate for a charity that is dear to their heart. So it shouldn’t be taken from this section that it is always a dreaded chore for a guest to grant an interview.

And as always, the member of the press should understand that the guest is there for the fans. Interviews should never be conducted in a way that interferes with the attendees and their enjoyment of the con. Unless there is a specific press area and time for the interview, the interviews should be conducted at low traffic times.

This is broadly understood.

The Convention As Press?

At a recent convention, however, it was made clear that only the convention itself would be interviewing guests or taping panels. While it is certainly the right of the convention to do this, allow me to explain why this is not a good idea.

When a convention makes these rules and wants to produce these interviews and panel recordings themselves, it limits the exposure for the convention. If they are particularly good videos, they might bring in more viewers, but it does limit the reach. Also, the convention’s main focus is being a convention. They don’t necessarily have the experience, the equipment or the reach that press outlets do. Having a press outlet cover your event will generally produce better quality coverage that reaches a larger audience. And then there’s the other issue.

A cosplay photographer in action.
A cosplay photographer in action.

Editors send members of their team to cover conventions and obtain quality content. If members of the press are denied the ability to get the best quality content from the convention, the editor is not going to send anyone in the future. The nice part about being a member of the press is that you don’t have to pay admission to the con. But travel expenses, meals, hotel rooms… those expenses are covered by the media outlet, not the con. So why is a media outlet going to spend money to send a team to an event that won’t allow them to get the quality content they need?

They won’t. And the convention will get less press coverage and less free exposure and advertising.

Playing Favorites

Another problem is favoritism shown to some press outlets over others. Now obviously if a news organization from a major network sends a team, they will get more accommodation than smaller outlets. That’s the way the world works. But in this case, the convention had its main panel room sponsored by a media outlet. While sponsors are a good way for a con to meet expenses and ensure a profit, in this case the media outlet who sponsored the room was the only outlet allowed to cover the high profile guest panels.

While you might say that this is the nature of capitalism, it’s actually a large conflict of interest and runs counter to the concept of freedom of the press. If a media outlet sponsored the venue for a government press conference and did not allow any other media outlets to cover it, the outcry would be enormous.

While this is entertainment and not on the same level of importance as governmental announcements, the principle remains the same. Plus the same problems apply… other media outlets won’t want to cover the events if they are banned from the best material and it limits the exposure for the con to just the one media outlet. And if the one media outlet is new and trying to make a name for themselves, they definitely don’t have the same reach as more established media outlets.

The reason some companies will sponsor a convention or a part of a convention is the additional exposure for that company. You’ve probably seen videos of press conferences with sponsor logos in the background. It gives that company additional brand recognition and associates it with fun events.

The media company that sponsored the panel room at this particular convention missed out on a great advertising opportunity. They decided to go for exclusive content, but had they allowed other press outlets to cover more of the panels in the room, then those press outlets would be providing them exposure as well. If a press outlet with more reach released their coverage, those watching would see the logo of the sponsoring outlet and might decide to check it out. They might have gained a lot more new viewers by allowing open coverage than restricting it to themselves.

Journalistic Courtesy

Accidents happen. At one convention my video camera fell out of my bag at the security checkpoint and broke. I only had one such camera with me (I now bring a secondary, just in case) and another member of the press with whom I am friendly helped me out. He recorded the interview that I had scheduled that day. Is he technically a competitor? Sure, technically (though our styles of videos don’t directly compete). But we respect one another and he helped me out of a jam. We later had the opportunity to assist another member of the press when their camera broke and helped them film their interview. Having a good relationship with other members of the press is valuable. It’s professional courtesy and those members of the press who have this attitude fare much better. Members of my team and I have received good advice from other members of the press and have given advice to others as well.

Voice Actor Marty Grabstein having a great interview.
Voice Actor Marty Grabstein having a great interview.

This media outlet who decided they would get exclusive content and shut out other members of the press… that attitude won’t serve them well. I can’t say I would be inclined to lend them a camera if something happened to theirs… nor would I be inclined to share any tips, tricks or techniques I’ve learned to help them with their quality of coverage or increasing an audience. I had actually planned to offer some help, as I know what it’s like to just start out, but after being kept from most of the panels, I changed my mind.

Some Don’t Bother with Press

There are some conventions who don’t give out press passes at all. A polite inquiry to one such convention about their press policy received a hostile response, claiming that with all the small press outlets out there, if they gave out press passes they would soon be out of business.

Apparently this person doesn’t realize that conventions that do give out press passes limit the number they issue and usually only issue them to outlets of a certain size. So no, the con wouldn’t go out of business. Massively successful conventions, such as New York Comic Con, Dragon Con, and Wizard World (to name just a few) all grant press passes to select outlets. 

Now this particular con probably doesn’t need additional exposure. They do quite well with attendance. Sometimes too well. But that brings us to another reason conventions should have a good relationship with the press.

Good Relationships Help

Things can go wrong at conventions. Sometimes so wrong that it becomes newsworthy. The way it is reported can make a difference, too.

A convention that has a good relationship with members of the press will generally be contacted for details and “their side of the story.” In fact, the convention would know what press outlets are there and be able to issue a statement to them quite quickly. While a member of the press will still report objectively on the problems that occurred, they can give a more balanced view of the events and provide more information about how the con responded and what they plan to do in the future.

Bad things happen, but a fair spin can help a convention recover with little to no damage.

If a convention doesn’t have a good relationship with the press, it might be quite some time before their side of the story is heard. Generally, most people will believe the first article they read and not pay too much attention to follow-up stories. Getting the word out early about what actually occurred and the response to it can be helpful and squash rumors. Scrambling around afterward and reacting to the bad press is less effective.

Scratch Each Other’s Backs

Maybe this gives you a better idea of why the press attend conventions and rush around. And why some conventions do try (and often succeed) to foster good relationships with members of the press.

Videographer Peyton DeSanta lining up a shot.
Videographer/Photographer Peyton DeSanta lining up a shot.

A smart convention will make clear the restrictions on interviews and panels ahead of time. They will try to facilitate interviews when possible and give some help to the press when reasonable. If a guest requires a list of press outlets for consideration prior to attending the con, make sure that is provided. If a press outlet requests an interview prior to the convention, pass on the request or provide information to the press outlet on who they should contact.

And the cons should definitely let press outlets know ahead of time if they need to put in requests prior to the convention. I drove 2 hours to a convention in hopes of interviewing some guests, only to be told… after I arrived… that I needed to put in my requests ahead of time. I would have, had I been informed.

No one expects the convention to go to extreme lengths to help the press, but some consideration can go a long way.

But I also hope that this reaches those convention organizers who have started some bad practices with regards to press or view them as an annoyance instead of the asset they can be. I would definitely suggest they consider how to make the press an asset in the future.

Thanks for reading and if you see me at a con… I might be running by on my way to record something. But please say “hi” anyways.

About Kyle Williamson

"Captain" Kyle Williamson is a cosplayer, actor, writer, fan and author of "The Elements of Cosplay: The Costume and Beyond." He has also interviewed hundreds of actors, authors and cosplayers and has moderated panels for conventions such as Wizard World, Retro Con, Terrificon, Farpoint and Shore Leave to name a few. You can follow him on Twitter @captainkylepa and Instagram @captainkylephilly.

View all posts by Kyle Williamson

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