How to not blow it with the news media

FEMA PIO with TV Reporter at Community Meeting

Tuscaloosa, Ala., May 12, 2011 — FEMA Public Information Officer Art Alejandre speaks with a Fox 6 WBRC reporter prior to today’s Hispanic community meeting and press conference. FEMA provides multilingual staff and printed materials so that all community members can receive timely and appropriate information to help recover from the deadly April tornado. George Armstrong/FEMA – Location: Tuscaloosa, AL

I’m lucky

I studied journalism in college.
I worked in the news media for a number of years.
I know tons of journalists.
My agency follows them on social media and they follow us back. The relationship in Utah between public information officers and the news media is mostly a cordial one.

The public information officers here understand that communicating effectively to the media is a critical way to get information to the public. And the news media understand the agency PIOs are mostly a great source of information for them to be able to inform and educate the public through their storytelling.

There are so many barriers to communication. Don’t let your relationship with the news media be one of them.

Do we have issues? Do personalities sometimes get in the way? Of course… this happens everywhere.

Here are some ways to help build your relationships with news media:

  • Don’t work under the assumption that people are out to get you.
  • Do a media tour. Take time with your boss or director or chief and make a visit to your local news stations and newspapers during those visits ask if there’s anything your agency can be doing better to communicate effectively with them.
  • Be available and accessible. Remember, you work for the public. The news media represent that public it’s much better to have a few reporters calling and sharing your message with your residence than having every resident call you. Make sure you have plans for news reporters to reach you after hours. And if it’s not you make sure someone is available.
  • Empower your dispatchers:often dispatchers receive the first phone calls about an incident from the reporters, especially if reporters don’t have a public information officer contact after hours. Establish a system for dispatchers to be able to give out key information. This helps the news me to decide if they are going to mobilize their resources to come to an incident. There is nothing worse than wasted time and money. We can make plans to help reporters do their jobs.
  • Remember, you are not the only source of information. The news media have a duty to seek out information from various sources. So please don’t be offended that they go somewhere else for another side of the story.
  • Be a good person. I know, this sounds like an infantile statement. But, if you are a truly good person you can be comfortable respecting the opinions of others. You won’t take questions about your agency personally, and you can deal patiently even in high-stress situations.

Remember, many reporters want to like you and they expect to work with you again in the future. Be the best you can be, and the experience does not have to be painful, even in high-stress interactions.



One thought on “How to not blow it with the news media

  1. I love the summary statement. As a reporting agency, our job is to get accurate info out to the public as soon as we possibly can. Unlike many other agencies, we don’t have to go through editors or producers since my team is all volunteers. We take the info as soon as we get it and get to the public as soon as we do. If we could, we would be right there in the War Room or Command Center with you. We even offer the ability to have PIOs send info through our feed.

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