Saturday, January 22, 2011

Establishing Connections

Recently I met with the editorial board and some reporters of one of the major press outlets in Nepal. During the discussion, they asked my opinion of the Nepali press environment. It was an interesting question, considering my previous post was Baghdad.

Iraq was a controversial topic and reporters were always on the lookout for a juicy story. So embassy press folks had to be on guard. If a reporter asked if the ambassador had met with the prime minister that day, if you weren't careful with your response ("No, the ambassador didn't meet with the prime minister") the next day's headline could be problematic ("American Ambassador Refuses to Meet the Prime Minister").

It's nice to be in an environment where the free press is still too new to have developed "gotcha journalism." Most of the major papers here will make an effort to reach out to me for confirmation before running a story about U.S. policy.

Of course there are exceptions. A paper ran a story about the latest State Department travel warning for Nepal and included commentary from an official that we were trying to sabotage Nepal's Year of Tourism. We never had the opportunity to explain that it's standard policy to issue a revised travel advisory every 6 months, or that the new advisory's language about the political unrest and demonstrations was actually toned down compared to the previous advisory. I guess I need to establish better relations with that paper so they'll give me a call beforehand next time.

At the end of my meeting with the editorial board, one of the reporters asked me when is the latest they can call me? How about on weekends? Can you imagine a Washington Post reporter asking the Baghdad Info Officer if 10:00 pm is too late to call?

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Can Be Charming, Dammit!

I'm not a people person. There, I said it. I don't enjoy chit chat with acquaintances or small talk with people I'm never going to see again. I'm not interested in what some random person's kid's second grade teacher said about his artistic abilities. Nor do I care about some other random person's hellish traffic stories.

As you can imagine, the Foreign Service - and Public Diplomacy work especially - forces these exact scenarios on me regularly. I've gotten pretty good at faking it and if there's wine involved, I may even enjoy a conversation.

Recently I was asked to attend a not-very-interesting function on behalf of the Front Office.

Front Office: Thanks for attending this. Just go, be charming for a couple hours, then leave.

Smart-ass friend*: Heather? Charming?

Me: I can be charming, dammit!

And so I was.

*I realized that most of the people I consider to be friends are smart-asses. I'm not sure what that says about me.