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Media Flock to ATA Convention

PHOENIX — The launch of the national no-call list this year has drawn an unusual amount of media interest in the American Teleservices Association's annual convention, which played host to more than half a dozen press representatives here yesterday.

Among the media outlets attending the ATA's 20th Annual Convention and Exhibition at the J.W. Marriott Desert Resort & Spa were National Public Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, the Arizona Republic, the Associated Press and the local CBS affiliate.

ATA representatives also made appearances on the local NBC and WB affiliate news programs.

ATA chairman Tom Rocca appeared on “Good Morning Arizona” on KTVK-TV, the WB affiliate, and found that the first piece of information the program aired was instructions on registering for the national no-call list.

Rocca said he used the opportunity to explain to consumers that some types of calls are exempt from the list and that those who registered after Aug. 31 will have to wait 90 days until their names are added to the list.

In past years, few mainstream media outlets have taken notice of the ATA annual convention, though the Washington Post sent a reporter to last year's show in New Orleans. Reporters covering the show said that telemarketing is on their readers' minds lately because of the no-call list.

“The outpouring of consumer interest made this a story,” said Matt Richtel, who covers no-call list issues for The New York Times. “This is being talked about at dinner tables, cocktail parties and in businesses.”

Reporters said they also came to the show because they wanted to get the industry's side of the story. However, the nexus of privacy and economic issues represented in telemarketing, and the universality of the public's experience with outbound calls, was the focal point of the media's interest.

“We have 17 daily papers around the country,” said Bob Keefe, a reporter for Cox Newspapers, whose flagship is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “All those folks are getting telemarketing calls.”

Telemarketing has had a rough time with press in the past, in particular with news stories that commonly lead by reminding their audience about the annoyance of telemarketing calls at dinnertime. Earlier this month, syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry's publication of the ATA's toll-free office number led to a flood of calls that jammed the ATA line.

However, in his opening speech yesterday, Rocca praised the media for helping educate consumers about telemarketing issues and noted that ATA representatives had made about 350 press appearances in the past 75 days. Barry will “write what he wants to write,” Rocca said, but the industry can help resolve consumer confusion about the new telemarketing regulations.

“There's a lot of negativity,” Rocca said. “But Tim [Searcy, ATA executive director] and I are trying to put knowledge out there.”

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