How Should the U.N. Talk to Blogs?


Image: The audio console in a U.N. press room. The big cup with the wire is the headphone. It doesn't have much to do with what's below, but is where I'm sitting now.

The U.N. would like to pretend it doesn't understand blogging. Last night, over drinks and dinner, members of U.N. organizations asked us about blogging and internet publishing, stressing their desire to participate in the conversation, but only if it didn't waste their time. "How do we tell who is legit and who is a looney?" asked Stephane Dujarric, Deputy Communications Director, Office of the Secretary General. Pretty much all the bloggers assembled reminded him that without actually getting to know the writers in question, you really don't—just like with mainstream outlets.

But Dujarric knew the answer before he asked the question, I suspect. It's clear that the U.N. would like to use blogs and other internet publications to promote their messages—and they're pretty good messages!—but they also don't seem to want to be bothered to actually participate online, rightfully afraid that their limited time and resources would be diverted from the traditional media outlets that have served them so well for so long.

After Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the United Nations Environment Program, blustered that the assembled bloggers didn't seem as passionate about the issue of climate change as he'd prefer, many bloggers blustered right back, saying that they did care, but that they didn't really feel like the High-Level Event—essentially a meeting to prepare for a meeting—was going to have much effect, especially on our own American politicians. (Almost all the bloggers assembled live and work in the U.S.)

What the bloggers might not have caught as they argued was Nuttall tipping back in his chair to wink to his compatriots at the end of the table, pleased at how successfully he'd riled the bloggers. Nuttall and Dujarric, both former working journalists, know how to get what they want—it's easy to get blog coverage, especially if you give bloggers press access; we're often desperate to prove that we're cut of the same cloth as other journalists—but it's a cheap trick. (Even if it is working, obviously.)

The U.N., like so many other large organizations, wants to be talked about, but isn't sure it wants to actually do much talking.


Other blips of note from the dinner: Nuttall questioning why a blogger who said he would appreciate direct contact from the U.N. didn't contact the U.N. first, instead. A fair response, but again antithetical to the "How do we work with these here blorgs?"

Yvo de Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), saying that he is "not a huge fan of Star Trek." Don't expect the U.N. to change to the United Federation of Planets while he's around.

Also, de Boer, a Vienna-born, dyed-in-the-wool diplomat, smokes hand-rolled Drum cigarettes. Take note for your next diplomat impersonation.

Taiwanese journalists are the only ones whose national press accreditation is not acknowledged by the U.N. in deference to China.

During the High-Level Event (which I swear keeps making it feel like there is a comet heading straight for Milwaukee) "lunch" will be referred to as "lunchtime," in deference to those observing Ramadan.

The High-Level Event is a preparatory summit, the largest yet of its kind about climate change, for an upcoming event in Bali later this year.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is here to give a speech about climate change. (I've got the transcript right here. It's nothing special. Sadly we're off in the press room, so we don't get to see the Governor in person.)

I've already met tons of smart, engaged people who, despite any pessimism I may have about the U.N.'s approach to bloggers, have already helped me check my head about the importance of the issue.

The United Nations Foundation has a blog where both original and linked content of the High-Level Event will be assembled.

Almost all the U.N.ers use Blackberries.

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