Today’s post is penned by a guest blogger, Dennis Doffing, National Sales Manager for Service Providers, at Satellite Tracking of People. He has posted on using VeriTracks for evidence-based practices in the past. I appreciate his willingness to share his knowledge with the readers.
I’m happy to get another opportunity to be a “Guest Utterer” on Greg’s Blog. Remember the old joke you know it will be a bad day when you arrive at work and a 60 Minutes crew is waiting in the lobby? Well, running an EM program means at some point you or your agency will come to the attention of news reporters, local and otherwise. Preparation by having some guidelines in place NOW will be a great help when reporters call about an incident.
Check what your agency may already have in place to handle requests from news reporters. Most agencies have a designated media relations department or public information professional. Take time to get to know these people or the individual professional and help them understand the mission of the program and the tools used to help keep enrollees accountable and change their behavior. Also explain how the program and its available tools help maintain a high level of public safety. Give them a list of contact people, including phone numbers and email addresses for inquiries received after hours or on weekends/holidays. Make sure you update the list of contact people when needed, such as changes in responsibilities, new hires or new phone/email information.
The media relations department or public information professional can likely provide training to you and/or your staff for talking to reporters. Prior to talking to a reporter, know what information can be released and adhere to the privacy laws in your jurisdiction. Privacy laws differ by state but most have information classified as public, private and confidential. For example, names of enrollees may be public due to open court information (not so with most juvenile cases), but addresses, schedules and victim information is likely classified as private or confidential.
Other ideas and considerations include:
- Have a media packet available for reporters, which provides good background information. This usually consists of general program information, sample forms, equipment brochure, program statistics, general profile of the type of individual enrolled in the program, reports documenting evidence-based practices, industry standards and the like. If your agency publishes an annual report, include it in the information packet.
- Gather relevant information, reports and data on a situation as soon as possible. Also, discuss with staff members and others the need to route all media requests to the agency’s media relations department or public information professional. Reporters already know to start there, but they also want the opportunity for exclusive information and/or interviews, so they may contact you or others in your agency directly.
- Provide a timely response to a reporter’s request. Even though all reporters work on strict deadlines, it’s okay to take time to research an answer to a question. But don’t avoid reporters and their questions. Doing so can only make you and/or agency look bad to the reading/viewing public or cause the reporter to escalate his/her request to the agency’s administration or a legal subpoena.
- Generate a simple media response policy if your agency doesn’t already have one. It can be as straightforward as the agency doesn’t comment on personnel issues or doesn’t comment on pending violation investigations. Whatever the policy, make sure your staff knows it and strictly adheres to it.
- When speaking to reporters, be aware of sound bites. You may answer a question with a long narrative response, but what airs in the TV report or is published in the newspaper or a web site is a very small portion of that answer. It’s the portion of your response the reporter deems to be the most relevant or news worthy to the overall story. Work the theme into your response whenever possible. This takes practice and the media relations department or public information professional can help you develop sound-bite friendly responses through training.
- Get to know local reporters when not in the midst of a situation. Media outlets remain hungry for news and information, especially since many of them are looking to fill 24 hours of programming every day. Work with the media relations department or public information professional to proactively pitch stories to the reporter(s) covering criminal justice issues in your jurisdiction. It could be a possible story on the positive impact your program is having on enrollees, their family and the community; key points from a report highlighting positive statistics or dollar savings to taxpayers.
This is only a brief overview on some ideas related to reporter interactions. It’s important to know who in your agency is the go-to person for inquiries from news reporters and how to respond to questions from reporters. Preparation is key and will serve you well during times of stress.