Magazine article Policy & Practice

Key in Dealing with Reporters: Don't Lie, Don't Hide

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Key in Dealing with Reporters: Don't Lie, Don't Hide

Article excerpt

The best media communications policy for human service agencies is a policy of speedy and candid response, according to some veteran agency public information officers and journalists from some of the country's largest news media.

Such was the consensus of a panel of professional journalists who discussed the best strategy for agencies to deal with reporters at a media communications discussion panel at the 75th anniversary conference last month in Washington. There is no excuse not to respond to any reporter's inquiry in a speedy fashion, they say.

In fact, many large organizations, private or public, for profit or nonprofit, trade association or government, have a policy of returning reporters' calls within a set period of time. Within public human services, the Utah Department of Human Services has a response rule known as the 30-minute return call policy.

"It's simply good policy and good politics. We try to respond immediately, although we don't have a written set-time return call policy," says George Earl Johnson Jr., communications director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and an ardent advocate of being honest to--and approachable by--the news media.

"Our public information policy says that we have to return all media calls within 30 minutes. We often have answers that fast," says Carol Sisco of the Utah Department of Human Services.

"If I am in the office and get a call, I'll answer it immediately if I know the answer," she says. "But if it's going to take time to research a question or find someone to talk, we call the reporter right back and tell them what we are doing, what we have so far, and ask about their deadlines."

Sisco and Johnson say it's important that PIOs have immediate access to all the division directors' offices to ensure a speedy response. Accessibility ensures prompt response, which in turn ensures a good relationship with the media, something that human service agencies need in order to survive public and legislative scrutiny. You never know when you might need some "favorable" stories.

Larry O'Rourke, congressional and political correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers and former deputy assistant secretary of education during the Carter administration, says many agency officials have the misconception that reporters are "out to get them." "We aren't out there to get anyone. Reporters in general don't have a bias against any of their sources. It's a common misconception that whenever you talk to the news media, you will always get bad news media," he says. …

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