TEDMED to healthcare press: pay up

I had hoped to be in Washington next week to cover the TEDMED conference, but apparently I am either not important enough or don’t have enough money.

Earlier this week, I requested press credentials for the event, the first one since Priceline founder Jay Walker bought TEDMED from Marc Hodosh. I went through Rogers & Cowan, the boutique PR agency Walker hired to represent TEDMED, and got a rather terse and surprising response:

Due to TEDMED’s press badge policy that is available at www.tedmed.com, (also see attached), we are unable to provide press badges to trade outlets due to space constraints, and freelancers/contributors must be on assignment from national outlets with broad circulation. For these reasons, I regret that we are unable to provide you with a badge.

The policy that was attached stated, in part: “Due to space limitations we regret that we cannot accommodate trade journals, third-party research organizations, research analysts at financial services companies, or producers of TV/film projects that lack confirmed theatrical or network TV distribution plans.”

The publicist closed the e-mail with a cheery “best regards.” I read that as PFO. In any case, it seemed like a bizarre way to treat the very media people who know this industry the best. Sure, TEDMED wants coverage from mainstream, national media, and the Hodosh version last year — really, just six months ago — was featured on CNN and ABC, among others. But last year’s version also got coverage from the likes of Medgadget — clearly a trade publication if not merely a blog— and an outlet called The Daily Transcript, which bills itself as “San Diego’s only information company reporting and providing hourly and daily business news.”

I asked this publicist why Medgadget was allowed in last fall and what TEDMED is trying to hide by shutting out the trade press. People who cover healthcare technology every day know what questions to ask. We can distinguish between real news and overblown hype. National TV networks will fawn over the technology and shiny gadgets without asking the questions that need to be asked. It seems to me that the new TEDMED management doesn’t want someone raining on their parade with a reality check.

The story got more intriguing when I received this follow-up response:

Medgadget is a returning media partner.

We invite [a publication I write for] to present a media partnership proposal for the 2013 conference once this year’s event wraps up. Our media partnership commitments are finalized about 4- 5 months prior to each year’s conference, FYI.

I wish we had room to provide every reporter who applies with a press badge/seat, but it is just not possible.

Very sorry again that we cannot register you this year.

What this means is that trade press are more than welcome if they pay to play, but someone simply looking to cover an event without paying up is out of luck.

As for the claim that space is at a premium, TEDMED will take place at the Kennedy Center Opera House, capacity 2,294. TEDMED says to expect about 1,000 attendees. That leaves, oh, nearly 1,300 seats that trade press can’t have, unless they’re willing to become a “media partner.”

Sure, there’s a space crunch. I hope all the “adventurous thinkers and doers” (TEDMED’s words) find room to stretch out in a half-empty hall. At least the pesky trade press won’t be there to report on how freaking smart and innovative they really are.