Press conferneces-- are they relevant anymore?  Long a staple of science news, the idea of a massive real-world press conference, with news embargoed until the big event, is a heavily criticized and yet equally heavily used tool of science-generating organizations.  Do they have any utility in a real-time internet and social media world?

Charles Blue (American Institute of Physics media relations) and Dwayne Brown (NASA HQ Public Affairs) weigh in (from the DCSWA conference).  First Blue:

It's like using a lathe-- it's a very specialized tool.

How is a press conference justified?  You have a filled room and a lot of articles in the media the next day.

3 slam-dunk reasons to have a press conference:

1) Does the event itself have impact/news value, it's not just shouting.  Having a relevant guest speakers (e.g. Neil Armstrong) helps, but it's not celebrity for celebrity stake.

2) There's a unique time element.  Leaks and controlling the story are needed to prevent the wrong message.  Real time interaction can help the story.

3) Do you have a captive audience and you're doing them a favor?

A good example of the latter is running press events at a conference, such as an AGU meeting.

3 reasons you should seriously reconsider holding a press conference.

1) Do you have more than a passing concern that the room will be empty?
2) Are you worried that people will be disappointed when you leave the room?
3) Will you stand behind what you said at the press conference-- tomorrow?

Science changes quickly, and you are endorsing the result when you throw a press conference.  Is a press release a better idea?

And now tips from Brown, leading with "don't hype the news or overly obfuscate.  (e.g. Arsenic...)"

Don't try to fill the room, you're not able to do that anymore.

NASA's trying to get away from 'press conference' to 'news event'.  With the web, organizations are throwing out news more directly.

"Social media has changed the face of what we do."

Top 10 Things Before Having a News Conference
10. Avoid conflicts-- with another NASA event, with the Superbowl, et cetera.
9. Decide on a location, time, and date.
8. Pick an appropriate venue.
7. Check the boxes: staffing, production, funding, security, et cetera.
6. Identify the speakers and talent-- and encourage diversity.
5. Products: advisory, news release, TV visuals, internet, social media.
4. Coordinate with other agencies/organizations/universities.
3. Rehearse and fine tune.  "When you go live on television, you get 1 shot at it."
Do a graphic rehersal the day before, a full dress rehersal the day of the show.
2. Give media flexibility and easy access.
1. Is it news?  Why should I care?

And we close with Blue: "Press conferences?  Absolutely, but the fact that we're asking the question means come back in 5 years."

Tuesdays at The Satellite Diaries and Friday at The Daytime Astronomer (twitter @skyday)