When my Explorator newsletter — and the internets — was still in its infancy, it was a common annual thing to read in most of the major newspapers some coverage of the annual Modern Languages Association shindig, most often with an aim of poking fun at folks. Over the years I have oft-opined at how little news coverage the major conferences in North America seem to garner, specifically the AIA/APA thing, and, to a lesser extent, the CAC thing. To be fair, there always seems to be one or two papers on the AIA side of things which gets attention, and in the past couple of years a pattern has emerged: first, the papers at the AIA/APA which get coverage in the popular press are those which have already had some press attention in the form of a University press release and has some ‘sexiness’ as a topic (e.g. Simon James’ study of chemical warfare at Dura Europos started out as a University of Leicestershire press release: Ancient Chemical Warfare (the press release doesn’t seem to be online anymore , alas), although even something potentially obscure (to the public), such as a paper on Menander, might get some press attention if it has garnered some press release attention (e.g. UCincinnati’s treatment of Kathryn Gutzwiller’s work a year or so ago: Mulling Menander and Mosaics).
But it must be admitted that merely putting out the press release doesn’t guarantee press coverage. The Canadian Archaeological Association just had its annual meeting and put out a press release (400 Canadian and American archaeologists in Montreal), but near as I can tell, no significant news coverage resulted from it. This suggests that for a major conference to get some popular press coverage, the association(s) involved have to go a bit further.
So here’s a potential strategy: once a paper has been accepted for presentation at one of the big conferences,the association has to encourage the author to go to his/her university’s PR department and say so or, given the reluctance of Classics types to be self promoting, perhaps the association should have some sort of ‘form email’ that they can send to a university’s PR department themselves (I’m sure PR departments would love to have something from the Humanities to cover). Hopefully that will result in a few press releases for the mainstream press to take notice of.
That’s the first step. The second step is a bit more labour-intensive: once the program for the conference has been put together (or better yet, while it is being put together … this will become clearly shortly), the powers that be should be putting together an itinerary of select papers which would have some popular appeal. It could be just for a morning session, a day, or the whole conference (or combinations thereof). These itineraries would be sent to the editors of the local major newspaper and to some of the ‘big ones’ which have (inter)national readership. Essentially what I’m suggesting is to give a prospective reporter a reason to go/something already in mind to report on. If abstracts are available online (as they are for the APA … but strangely not for the CAC), links to those could also be provided to make the journalists’ job even easier.
Livetweeting and liveblogging such things should also be encouraged, but it must be admitted that all such treatments essentially are ‘preaching to the converted’. To reach the broader audience, we need to hit the ‘bigger papers’ … perhaps the next time one of the biggies is coming around someone might want to implement some/all of these suggestions just to see if they have any potential …