Thursday, August 6, 2015

My first press briefing

Most of the time, a scientist discusses his/her team's findings in scientific fora, either as posters or as oral presentations. But there are times, the rarer ones, when scientists are thrust in front of cameras to talk about interpretations of data to the media (who will then paraphrase these for the lay audience).

I was tasked to such an assignment scheduled earlier today. It was my very first press briefing. It's challenging to share technical developments because the message can really be lost in the translation. Case in point: a professor's comments at a conference was vastly misunderstood and was printed on the front page of a national newspaper. I came across that article and felt sorry for the professor. I also felt bad for the journalist because issuance of an erratum is like a smear to one's reputation (and questions one's capacity to provide accurate news). Yeah, I was in journalism class in high school

I was scared for myself. If I did well, I would deliver the message and nobody's going to grossly misquote me. If I made a mess out of this... I didn't even want to think of that happening. Clearly, I needed help in making sure that the message was journalist-ready. I prepped with lots of help from Leah, Lem, Tony, and Bruce. Plus, the previous media skills training I received came in handy. Basta 'wag fuchsia daw. Hehehe. 

The event itself, though, was an entirely different experience. It was intimidating! One, I was starstruck because I was surrounded by famous people; you know: those who I normally only see on the telly. Good thing I dressed a bit more formally; I blended in a bit better. Two, all cameras, the giant network news ones, were trained at the people speaking at the press briefing! I felt like I was a target of a firing squad! Every fidget I'd make would be caught on cam, I thought. But the experts at being camera subjects talked with me while waiting for the briefing to start so I was able to relax a bit.

Funny thing is, I normally watch such events on the telly or I'd be behind the press corps. So as a habit, I went behind them before the presentation began... Until someone pointed to me that I was supposed to be at panel, in front of the camera... Seated behind my name plate.

(I was in the company of Atty Ann Coronel and Administrator Renan Dalisay of the National Food Authority, Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernisation Kiko Pangilinan, and Dr Joyce Sales of the Food Development Centre. Photo credit: Bev Natividad:

An hour later, the press briefing ended. It went relatively well because the news was a good one. I wasn't fielded questions; most of the inquiries were directed to the other panelists. One led the discussion on the technical aspects. One talked about the history of the issue. One reiterated the good news and rehashed the scientific conclusions. Another reassured the public that work is being continued to assure food safety and quality. 

So basically, I said my one statement and then sat through the rest of the press briefing, listening to the other panelists. Not too bad. Nobody saw me wringing my dress under the table, my version of Ralph Fiennes' paper clip from Maid in Manhattan.