Those Middle of the Night
Phone Calls from Reporters
If you are like most Public Information Officers, you get calls at all hours from reporters and editors looking for that one piece of information that you and only you can provide. If your agency is structured like most, there are only a select few, who may speak to the media for your agency. While it’s a compliment to you that your agency has trusted you with that responsibility, it is often an overwhelming task.
If you could unburden yourself and trust someone else to release information to the media, you might sleep a lot better at night, or better yet, you might even get through an entire weekend with the family without a call from your favorite reporter.
One solution we’ve come up with is to have a basic “Dos and Don’ts Instruction Card” to hand out to those whom you can trust to talk to the media in your absence.
If there is a car crash in the middle of the night with a death or injuries, there’s no reason you can’t have someone pre-designated to take those media phone calls for you. Your designated spokesperson would not have to go on-camera, rather, they would just give the media the basic facts such as the time of the incident, the location and the number of victims, but not their names or any of the specifics of the incident. If reporters demand more information, your designee could politely inform them that you will be in the office at 9 am and they should call you at that time. I wouldn’t even have the designee taking messages or phone numbers for you; just get everyone in the habit of calling you at your office number during business hours.
If one of those killed or injured turns out to be the Mayor or some other high profile or well know individual, then you probably should get out of bed, get dressed and prepare to face the reporters. But for those routine events, your Dos and Don’ts car will serve as a guide to your over-night PIO designee, while satisfying the needs of the media long enough for you to return to work.
Your Dos and Don’ts List
Below is a sample list, but you will probably want to create one of your own, specific to your own agency policies:
General information about the incident may be released, such as:
Time and location of an incident.
General description of an incident.
General information about what happened.
Confirmation of injuries and/or fatalities.
Names of those involved would be released later (by you).
If there are suspects at large, provide description.
Remember, if the incident is in an area that is open to public view, the media cannot be barred from the scene or prevented from photographing it.
Don’t ID a juvenile suspect. Refer to them as: “juvenile suspect”
Don’t ID ANY suspect by name unless authorized.
Don’t reveal suspect’s prior arrest history.
Don’t reveal or confirm information in any confession.
Don’t reveal results of suspect’s questioning, examination or other tests.
Don’t release victim names until next of kin notified.
Don’t release names of witnesses.
Don’t block the media from taking photographs.
Don’t “pose” a suspect for media
If you have a tip, that would you like to share with Public Information Officers across America, please email it to us at: Info@PublicSafetyMediaTraining.com