Five minutes of Al Gore, then everybody out except…

If anyone is still in need of proof that the news media industry is changing, a recent Al Gore speech in Toronto was a case in point.

After playing an email version of cat and mouse with the PR rep for Allstream’s “An evening with Al Gore” on November 24, I managed to secure media passes for myself and a photographer. Following a gracious greeting by doormen at the end of the red carpet, the smiling media registrar informed us where to set up, what time the event would commence, and offered to escort us to the media area.

There was only one catch, she explained. “We’re going to have to ask you to leave after the first five minutes.”

The look on my face must have belied my disbelief, as the pleasant woman patiently explained that the Toronto Star, as media partner for the event, had demanded exclusivity on reporting Gore’s remarks. I motioned toward the dozen or so other journalists and photographers setting up at the back of the room, “Them too?”

That’s right, she said. After five minutes of the “Goracle’s” speech, we were all to be escorted from the room.

“Why invite us in the first place?” I asked, at which point she shrugged her shoulders apologetically and walked off.

While I understand the Star‘s motivation for keeping the best quotes for their correspondents, the fact that non-Star journalists were only told about the five minute rule upon arrival struck me as bizarre, and more than a little rude. Why require the removal of so many people and their equipment once the speech was under way? So I sought out Allstream’s PR rep for an explanation.

“Oh, it has nothing to do with the Toronto Star,” he asserted. “Mr. Gore insisted that media coverage be restricted to one publication.” As my photographer hissed his disbelief and turned to pack up his equipment, I pressed him for clarification.

“So Al Gore came all this way to speak to people for $500 a pop about how we have to save the planet, but he insists on throttling the media coverage?”

The PR rep — suddenly mesmerized by the tops of his shoes — mumbled an incoherent response as the lights went down and the music came up for the evening’s proceedings, but I had heard enough. We left him standing in the dark, alongside several frustrated reporters.

Being duped into tacking extra time on my work day to attend an event that I wasn’t really wanted at is one thing, but being lied to (poorly) about the reason why was insulting.

Why not just tell the Star‘s competition that media are not invited? That’s how the promoters of Bill Clinton’s recent speech in Toronto dealt with my query. “No media passes are to be given, but if you’d like to buy a ticket…..” Disappointing, but at least they were honest.

Hopefully this incident was a blip on the radar and doesn’t become the norm. I’d rather not have to routinely ask how many minutes I’m allotted when invited to an event.

(Read Exclusivity of media coverage for another related reporter experience.)