Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke held the Fed‘s first-ever official press conference April 27. It struck me most, aside from the fact that it took place at all, by the way it was so uniformly called a press conference.
One might have thought that press, suggesting actual ink and paper, was too old-fashioned, too narrow, to be relevant, but evidently not, at least not at the Fed.
The alternative term would be news conference. My Google News check just now shows “news conference” clearly ahead of “press conference,” 35,898 hits to 28,604. But a 44 percent market share is still respectable.
“An interview or announcement given by a public figure to the press by appointment” is Merriam-Webster‘s definition of press conference, a term it dates to 1937.
“An interview given by a public figure to the press” is Merriam-Webster’s definition for kids. Its sample sentence is, “The President will hold a press conference later today.” M-W’s Learner’s Dictionary defines press conference as “a meeting in which someone gives information to news reporters and answers questions,” and notes “news conference” as a synonym.
As his speechwriter, the late William Safire, explained in a PBS interview in 2007, “Nixon changed the name of the press conference to the news conference. Why? Because it wasn’t the press’s conference; it was the president’s conference to make news. He thought about that. That wasn’t an accident.”