The AAJ's Misguided Media Ban
When news media showed up this weekend to cover House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's speech at the annual convention of the American Association for Justice in San Francisco, they were turned away. Ray De Lorenzi, the AAJ's associate director of communications, said the event was open only to members of the national plaintiff-lawyers' group, according to Legal Newsline. "No media have ever been allowed at our conventions," he said. "This is for members only."
Unfortunately for Mr. De Lorenzi, it is simply not true to say that media have never been allowed at AAJ's conventions. I can say that unequivocally because I attended a number of the organization's conventions as a credentialed member of the news media and also arranged for other reporters at my publications to attend. On more than one occasion, I conducted face-to-face interviews with the association's president during the annual convention, usually with the organization's director of media relations sitting in, so I have no doubt they knew I was there.
Mr. De Lorenzi joined the AAJ only last year, according to his LinkedIn profile, so I have to assume he was misinformed about the association's past practice. Regardless, for a major professional organization such as the AAJ to maintain a strict policy of excluding the news media from its annual convention is just stupid (to borrow a word from President Obama). I do not know how far its policy goes, but I could not find even blog posts coming out of the convention this weekend. The official AAJ convention blog went silent a week before the convention got underway.(Its last media-sensitive post: announcement of a new speaker on the topic, "Your Summer Beach Body.")
The AAJ has always been skittish about the news media. I remember an incident years ago in which a reporter working for me sat through and wrote about a meeting that was supposed to be a top-secret strategy meeting off-limits to the press. No one at the meeting said it was closed and no one noticed the reporter sitting in. The incident caused an uproar within the organization's higher echelons but was hardly noticed by anyone else.
In this day and age, any organization that considers itself smart to shut out the media is seriously misguided in its policy. The smart approach is to develop a policy that welcomes and encourages media of all kinds -- traditional media and new media. A smart media strategy does not require complete transparency. The AAJ is involved in coordinating national litigation and has every right to expect and maintain confidentiality in this work. But to distrust the media so thoroughly as to shut it out entirely serves only to breed reciprocal distrust, by the media and by the public at large. If the AAJ wants to enhance the image of trial lawyers in this country, it had better start by enhancing its transparency.
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 27, 2009 at 10:59 AM | Permalink
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