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Should vendors pay journalist press trip expenses?

I’ve been having an interesting e-mail discussion with an ex-colleague (now in-house) around the issue of IT and telecom vendors paying journalists’ travel, accommodation and subsistence expenses for foreign press events.

He raised the issue on the back of a rival vendor who has organised a 2 day press trip abroad inviting over 100 journalists from around Europe. Having seen the agenda, it does appear to be little more than a thinly disguised “junket”.

Of course, my American readers at this point may be scratching their heads.

I can only speak for the tech sector, but the concept of businesses paying press expenses has always bemused US journalists. I remember running a press trip to California in the early 1990s – we had both US and European journalists there. The US journalists wouldn’t even have a drink bought for them. They couldn’t believe that the European press had flights, accommodation, etc all paid for (and in some instances, attempting to claim for rather more, ahem, exotic items). Then again, the Europeans thought the US press were far too cosy with vendors and rarely produced negative copy in spite of their apparent transparency (the theory propounded by the Brit press being that because US publishers picked up the tab for their journalists expenses, they had to fund it out of other revenue eg advertising. So there was an unspoken rule that US hacks would only write something negative in extreme circumstances. Hence the accusation from some UK and European journalists that much US tech journalism was bland and non-commital).

A senior UK IT reporter once told me he felt the US IT press regarded themselves as part of the IT industry whereas the European press saw themselves as outside observers looking in.

Having said that, there are some notable “no paid press trips” policies over here: The Economist, BBC and Financial Times to name a few.

So. Are we likely to see a move to a more US style model of press trip funding over here?

Probably not. I suspect for many journalists – especially in IT – foreign press trips are seen as a perk of the job – a bonus to compensate for their lower wages and increased workload.

However, given the rise in coverage of “green computing”, it would be interesting to calculate the carbon footprint of all those journalists being flown abroad and back for this event.

Clearly it would be foolish to suggest an end to all foreign press events. But perhaps the main point is (as with press events of any kind, wherever they are held): was there no other more efficient way of providing the information/getting our message across than a press jolly in a sunny clime? And who should pay for it?

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