August 20, 2005
Managing the Enron media

I'm still puzzling through this story from yesterday.

It's not the Super Bowl or the All-Star Game.

But the big Enron trial coming up in January featuring former head honchos Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Rick Causey as defendants will draw scads of media attention, and Houston's civic leaders want to make sure the city comes off looking good.

Earlier this month, Houston's image makers from the Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, City Hall and county government met to begin forming a strategy to "tell the other side of the story," according to minutes of the meeting.


Frank Michel, City Hall's communications director, said the meeting was a brainstorming session that included some wild ideas that were thrown out pretty quickly.

He quickly dismissed as "ridiculous" the idea of tracking down reporters and TV crews, he said.

"I said we weren't going to stalk the media," Michel said Thursday.

He added that whatever approach is taken, it won't be a heavy-handed public relations operation to combat any ugly impressions. Instead, he said, the group will focus on how to help the media do their job.

That includes making parking available but not free for those covering the trial, setting up a tent near the federal courthouse so the media don't have to stand out in the rain, and meeting with TV stations to find out what sort of technical help they may need.

If that's what this is about, then I'm OK with it. These trials are going to take weeks, and there will be lulls with not much new to report. It's almost a certainty that there will be a few background/overview type stories filed at those times, where the whole Enron-as-microcosm-of-Houston thing will get rehashed. If the goal is to make sure the writers of those tales are in a decent frame of mind because they haven't gotten continually lost driving around or had to park a mile away from the courthouse, I guess it can't hurt.

As long as it's not so obvious that the attempt itself is a story.

On its face, there's nothing wrong with city leaders and civic boosters being logistically prepared, said Scott Libin, a faculty member at journalism's Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. And he was glad to hear that the committee noted in the minutes that there is a "fine line" between hospitality and undue influence.

But, he said, he hoped local leaders aren't trying to turn every restaurant server into a goodwill ambassador for the city. Local leaders shouldn't fall for the false dichotomy of "positive" or "negative" stories, because good stories are much more complex than that.

Just make it a little easier for a bunch of cranky, homesick people to do their job, and get out of the way. If that's all it is, then it's all right. I just hope that's all it is.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 20, 2005 to Enronarama | TrackBack

"[M]ake sure the city comes off looking good."

Bozos. Is this what I pay taxes for? Go fix the Shepherd/Richmond intersection why don't you.

What is that strange, popping noise I keep hearing? I think I'm becoming a curmudgeon. Is that the sound of my youth gassing away?

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on August 22, 2005 2:50 PM