I got a kick out of it, simply because of my past experience having worked at Southeastern. I can imagine there were at least two people instrumental in the planning of the National Leadership Forum who were FUMING that a reporter would have the audacity to ask a non-Forum-related question of the Jebster at their event.
Kudos to Robin, or whichever reporter attempted to ask the question. CSX is a huge issue for Polk County residents, it has divided entities on the issue, it will have a HUGE impact on us all, and people want answers. Reporters may not always be liked or appreciated for their actions, but they have an obligation to make reasonable attempts to gather information for valid news stories. In this case, CSX has tongues wagging from one end of Polk County to the other. A reporter would have been remiss not to have attempted to address the issue with the man who was governor when the deal was made.
That is a fact Public Relations professionals should keep in mind when organizing events in which the media will attend. Any time you invite the media to an event involving a speaker who played an instrumental role in a divisive issue and you open it up for questions at the end, you stand the potential of opening a can of worms if a reporter asks a question. But those are the risks you take! You must take the good (publicity for your event) with the bad (the potential for reporters to ask off-topic questions).
This is the second year Southeastern University has hosted the National Leadership Forum. The coverage provided by The Ledger this year was far better than last year. I attribute that to two things: last year was the first event and its speaker line-up was preacher-heavy. Although those preachers are well-known in religious circles, they aren’t popular in the mainstream media.
This year’s event also featured heavy hitters who are household names- Gen. Colin Powell and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Those who are in the know in business circles might also have heard of Ken Blanchard (who also spoke last year). Blanchard authored the popular book, The One Minute Manager.
So combine an event that proved itself last year with well-known speakers, and you have a recipe for media interest. Southeastern got that this year. (Update- I’ve also learned The Ledger sponsored part of the Forum this year. That’s another good clue as to why the coverage was better.)
In situations such as this, I recommend that you hang onto the good parts- great publicity for your event- and chalk up the “inappropriate questions” to the occupational hazards of allowing media into your events to begin with.