August 15, 2000

Secrets of the trade show press room

Author: JT Smith

By Robin Miller
Editor in Chief

I am writing this live from the press room of IDG's LinuxWorld show, currently
in progress at the San Jose, Calif., convention center. Because this show is
being covered top to bottom by everyone from ZDNet to the Los Aptos (California)
Times, I
thought I'd take you to the one place you won't read about elsewhere: the press
room.

Every trade show has a press room, and you can only get into it if you have a
"press" badge. The one here at LinuxWorld is just like the ones at other shows:
a reception area for general schmoozing and casual interviews, a "briefing room"
where press conferences are held, a lounge area with free food and drinks, and a
"working press" room like the one I am in now, equipped with computers on a fast
network that people like me can use to file stories.

The computer I am using here runs Linux. It is one of the 12 provided that does.
Another five run Windows, and there is one Macintosh. Another eight writers are
using their own laptops, hooked either to the show-provided network or to the
show-provided phone hookups. Of these, one is running Linux, three are Macs, and
five are running Windows.

The main thing about this room is that it is quiet compared to the convention
show floor; it is someplace you can come and type without interruption, as I am
doing now, without having to hike back to your hotel two or four blocks away.

Now back to the lounge: Reporters are famous for scarfing down free food and
drink, and providing it is a famous way of attracting their (our) attention.
Today's feature lunch item here was chicken fajitas. I had a taste, but stuck
mostly to coffee. A good press room has good coffee (and real milk or cream). A
bad press room has bad coffee and, worse, artificial cream or, even worse,
instant coffee fixings and powdered creamer.

But the real reason to put out all this honey to attract fly-like journalists is
to get them to attend the press briefings in the press-only conference room.
Companies that provide these briefings pay for the privilege. In the computer
field, there is such PR desperation that some of the players will do almost
anything to get media attention, up to and including paying multiple thousands
of dollars to trade show organizers for arranging these mini-press conferences,
which do have an advantage for reporters, in that they allow them to meet
with some of the show's more notable speakers in less-crushed circumstances than
when they are giving keynote speeches.

For the reporters, aside from the "access" to briefings and Q&A sessions with
notable show speakers, the free food, and the pleasant room from which they can
file stories, the biggest attraction here in the press center is the chance to
schmooze with fellow writers and editors. Freelance assignment deals are made
here. Rumors are passed; a second ago I heard that Michael Cowpland might resign
as CEO of Corel, and the reporter who was seeking confirmation of this rumor
immediately ran toward Corel's booth on the convention floor, trailed by several
others who were as hot as he was for this potential big-in-the-Linux-community
scoop. I stayed behind, chatting with a book publisher and several other
people who were not in the mood to chase scoops, but wanted to sit quietly and
drink coffee and generally not go face all the bustle and hustling on the show
floor.

Besides, if Cowpland resigns, everyone will cover it, and I'm sure we'll find
the links and point to them from NewsForge, so I might as well stay here in the
quiet press area, and perhaps take in a briefing or two. Press areas are
usually the most relaxed and friendliest places at computer trade shows, and at
Linux shows they tend to be even nicer.

Believe me, if I could possibly invite you to join me here, I would. You'd like
it better than most of the noise that seems to have become the overriding
characteristic of Linux trade shows these days.

tomorrow: more Linux World Expo coverage

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