Interview with a Reporter

By DeSantis, Cari | Policy & Practice, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Interview with a Reporter


DeSantis, Cari, Policy & Practice


Secretary DeSantis interviewed NewYorkTimes reporter Richard Jones on working with the media. Although his responses describe working with child welfare directors, the lessons resonate among all human services. Below are excerpts from his responses:

CD: If you had the chance to say only one thing about working with the media to the child welfare director of any given state, what would it be?

RJ: Be transparent. In my experience, few things are as great an impediment to better relations between child welfare agencies and reporters-or the general public, for that matter-as a director who tries to obfuscate or conceal.The impulse of most fair-minded people to whom I talk who are interested in child welfare is less about assigning blame for problems and more about trying to engage in constructive discussion about how to fix them. Very often, though, the public feels that, by withholding information, agencies are less interested in solving the systemic issues that lead to things like child fatalities and more concerned with damage control. Many reporters whom I've spoken with say the directors they respect the most are those who are not afraid to acknowledge mistakes and discuss any of their systems failings-and more important: how to fix them-candidly. On the flip side, few things seem to damage the credibility of directors more than if they appear to be in denial about the state of their systems.

Rather than looking at openness as a potential liability or weakness, directors should see it as an opportunity to really explain and provide context to reporters and the public for what's going on in their systems. Many people look at child welfare systems as some kind of big black hole into which children vanish. And that kind of ignorance-and I use the word in its most benign sense-about how agencies work often cultivates a sense of mistrust among the public. Work with reporters to shine a light on what's happening in your agency-good and otherwise. Even stories about child fatalities or high-profile cases of abuse or neglect can be illuminating. …

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