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A Twitter press conference

Sam Pitroda’s press conference (PC) on his twitter handle @pitroda yesterday created a lot of buzz among (who else) tweeple. The entire morning till 3.30 pm, when the PC began, had various people posting about the on-coming highlight of the tweet day – Pitroda conference. The fact that Pitroda, adviser to Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations is the first person from the government to have taken advantage of twitter’s network and held the conference in is social media site only added to the excitement.

As technology progresses, the method of communication and dissemination of information also becomes innovative. So, hats off to Pitroda for thinking of using Twitter to his advantage. Journalists and non-journalists interested in the PC topic – Democratisation of Information – showered questions at Pitroda and I saw him answering many of them.

Before starting, Pitroda had put up a series of Youtube links on his twitter account showing video of his explaining the chosen topic of discussion as well as why he chose to discuss it in Twitter. “Get interested people…Focus on the message…Increasing the reach and richness of content,” is how he described the choice of medium. He said with in a normal PC he would be addressing the topic with about 50 journalists, whereas
in Twitter, he can reach out to people genuinely interested in the topic across the world.

Although I am glad that Pitroda has shown the way for other government officials to use social media to their advantage, I had some concerns about this medium of PC. While a novel initiative in Indian context, it might not really be that effective.

a)     Was 45 minutes on virtual time sufficient to discuss the topic?

b)    Was he able to answer all the questions posed to him?

c)     Did he answer some of the pointed questions to satisfaction?

The problem with this medium is you cannot corner a person and get him to answer uncomfortable questions unlike a physical press conference. I agree, the conventional medium does limit participation but at least you get some answer from the official.

In my experience as a journalist, physical press conferences are a great way to meet lower ranking officials who come with the high ranking official conducting the PC. You also get time to personally discuss and verify any queries about the subject of discussion after the PC. It is also a great way to create a rapport and get further story ideas, considering most PCs are followed by lunch and you can get extra off-record time with the officials.

Also, wouldn’t Reddit’s IAmA (like NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof did yesterday), which has been used by US President Barak Obama and other politicians in the past, serve as a far better option to hold virtual PCs than Twitter?

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