The US and Us: how they communicate, and we don’t



As we filed in for the joint presser, each of us found a statement of the US treasury secretary on our seats, as prepared for delivery. There was nothing from the Indian delegation.

The secretary read his statement. The Indian minister went extempore, or so it seemed. Each took two questions, and left for lunch to a different part of the building.

It was well past noon and newspapers in India would be closing soon for the night. But there was no sign of the minister’s statement, or his communications person.

In the build-up to that meeting, Treasury did two press previews — one for all business reporters, and one only for Washington DC’s Indian correspondents.

What did India do? Nothing.

We were clearer, therefore, about US expectations from the meeting than India’s. There was a press briefing at the end of that visit, though, a hurried 30-minute affair before the minister was to leave for the airport to catch a flight home.

So, we finally found out. But was it too late by then? I think so. Delivering the message right and at the right time is as important as the message itself.

This is not about how to handle the press, or make things easier for them. We can manage and we do, mostly. Heard of “sources”, those faceless, nameless know-alls?

But here is what I am talking about

After the bilateral meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama made some remarks. And then went back into the White House for lunch.

Reporters scrambled back to the media center to file.

Transcripts of the remarks were not ready yet. And reporters traveling with the delegation were on such tight schedules they had no time to listen to their recordings and file.

They had to finish lunch, if they wanted, and leave immediately for the airport for the second leg of their US visit — New York, for the UN general assembly.

When the transcripts were finally ready, they were uploaded to the MEA website. Could it have helped if they were mailed to reporters covering the summit?

The White House did, but in time for US deadlines.

Comparisons are odious, but indulge me for a bit.

While traveling with President Obama during his re-election campaign in 2012, for instance, we would receive updates immediately in our mail, in real time.

And all sorts of information – the importance of a coming event, history of the diner where the president bought himself a hot dog, or the size of the rally he addressed.

Most importantly, the schedule gave reporters time to file.

Is it about resources? Mostly, but not always.

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