with the media is critical to successful communication. Today the United
States does not have a self-contained method to instantly communicate
with its citizens, such as an emergency broadcast system that would
reach everyone who may need important information about what actions
to take. (Be aware that there is either an Emergency Broadcast System
(EBS) or Emergency Alerting System (EAS) capability in every state,
county, city in the U.S.) The private media act as that emergency broadcast
system during a crisis and do it very well. If you ask someone where
they go to get up-to-date information during an emergency, they will
mention radio, TV, and, today, Web sites. Communities around the nation
are served by professional media representatives who recognize their
role in public safety. Most media do know this, but there is a huge
turnover in the field. You should not assume that they are all aware
of this information. There is a need to continually educate the media
on their role and its importance in protecting the public.
imperative that Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) and all elements
and nongovernmental organizations involved in crisis response understand
the legitimate needs of the media and how to fulfill those needs
an ongoing and well-thought-out part of the response plan.
For Different Media Outlets
emergency planners should acknowledge the media's role in a crisis and
plan to meet reasonable media requirements during the crisis. Media
representatives have space and time to fill and deadlines to meet. Know
those deadlines and work to accommodate them.
As a public
organization, the most ethical way to approach that responsibility is
to provide all media with fair access at the same time. Through the
use of pre-established e-mail addresses, fax numbers, and onsite media
opportunities (including teleconferencing so that media away from the
event can attend), you can be the pillar of fairness. In the first critical
hours or days of an emergency, do not play favorites; equal access to
information is imperative
said, you should provide for the local media first. Do not discard them
in favor of the national media and the well-known names. They will be
there long after the initial phases of a crisis or emergency is over and
long after the national media have gone home. Local media are counting
on local response officials to work with them, and you should. If you
are the public information official at the local level, think local media.
If you are at the State level, think regional media or border media, and
at the national level, think national media.
As a public
information officer, consider the following before releasing information
to the media:
Do you have the information on the subject? You must physically
have the information before you release it.
Are you qualified to discuss the topic with the news media? If
you are not the expert, find out who the expert is and arrange to
have him or her brief the media.
Do you have jurisdiction over the issue? Itís always advisable
to stay in close contact to your higher headquarters to coordinate
your response and get its view of "the big picture."
Is the information classified? The security limitation is most
important because of the need to safeguard classified and operationally
Is the information accurate? Public information officers have an obligation
to provide accurate, factual information and to avoid speculation.
Is the information appropriate to the situation? Ensure that information
released displays sensitivity and dignity. For example, do not release
photographs of disease victims that could distress family members.
Do the policies of your organization permit release of this information?
The Media Get Your Message Out 28
an unfolding emergency, media may not behave as they normally would,
so you must expect the possibility of this different behavior from them
during the early moments of a crisis. The following table lists actions
that you can take to help get your message out.
verified information. Diminished information verification. Tentative,
sometimes incorrect, information will be broadcast.
the media's willingness to provide important messages to the public.
In a crisis, the media's adversarial role
may be diminished. (Media are people, too). They will have genuine
concern about what is occurring and will desire to help by providing
important messages. Do not expect the media to be this accommodating
throughout the entire crisis, but in the beginning, the level of "them"
versus "us" does diminish.
local media deadlines and keep the information flowing to help disseminate
local public health messages. For major
crises, expect the national media to dominate. Most people will be
getting their news from the national media. Local media will be feeding
information to the national media, coordinating the coverage.
up a Joint Information Center (JIC). Media will be expecting a
central place where they can consolidate information to deliver to
their viewers and listeners. The JIC is used as a central point where
"official information" is dispensed. Initially, the media
will accept that a lot of their information must come from the JIC.
Within hours or days, depending on the crisis, media will be looking
for other perspectives and other places from which to broadcast.
adequate scientific expertise. Another reality during a public
health emergency, especially those involving infectious disease issues,
is that many media will not have the technical or scientific background
to quickly grasp new information or the nuances of that information,
as in the case of Magic
Johnson's announcement that he was HIV positive. Prepare to fill
in the blanks. Speaking plainly to the media is a good way to practice
speaking plainly to the public during the emergency. Start with the
basics and bring your reporters along. They will appreciate not being
made to feel stupid, and you will appreciate that the reports are
the mediaís role. Donít expect to tell them what to do. Understand
For The Media During A Crisis
information for the media, remember the following points.
pressure will be tremendous from all quarters.
- It must
be fast and accurate.
- If information
is not finalized, explain the process.
Emergency Information To The Media
are a variety of ways to get emergency information to the media,
its own advantages and disadvantages:
emergency, print information must move electronically to the media or
be distributed as handouts to media at the site of the incident. If
it is important enough to put down on paper (the information will remain
current for at least a 24-hour cycle), get it done.
consistent information to all media
an historical record-in-the-making
for background information and direction to other sources of information
media, who like paper, something in their hands from which to work
available prepared releases, that can be fill-in-the-blank and that
will guide you to answer the questions at the top of reporters' minds;
keeps you organized in the early hours
expectation for releases within the media and public
for the same releases to be posted on your own Web site.
take considerable time to write, and information may be in flux.
- It may
be difficult to clear them through all layers of official command.
- If the
release is not coming from the EOC command post (if it is involved),
it could start a turf war.
will expect more where that came from; be prepared to consistently
release information this way.
- If the
release of information is not organized through a command post, competing
press releases could frustrate media, especially if releases cover
information that spans across response areas, and if it is unclear
who is responsible for collecting and releasing what information.
Press Conference/Media Opportunity
- If media
are at the site of an event, it's an effective way to conduct media
interview requests in one shot and control their access to the site.
- It helps
ensure consistency in the information released.
- It can
introduce your spokesperson and subject matter experts to the public,
and allow them to express caring and begin to build their credibility
with the public.
- It allows
the response organizations to show very early on that there is a process
in place to respond to the crisis and that, although the event is
unfolding, someone is ready to help with response and recovery.
rules about questions from the media can be imposed.
- If information
is changing rapidly, or if not enough is known to issue a press release,
it fulfills the immediate need of electronic media to fill space and
officials have a forum to embrace the response effort and present
a united front (Remember that elected officials will not always support
your actions - often this will depend on whether it is politically
expedient for them to do so).
- It is
sometimes difficult to get the right people in front of the media
to give updates (planning helps).
may be sketchy and response officials may balk at meeting with the
media when they do not have the answers (training helps).
media cannot be at the site, they may find it difficult to get
they want or need (fax, Web postings can provide needed information).
can not do this once; media will expect periodic media opportunities.
- If coordination
is not solid, you could find that competing media opportunities are
occurring. Local, State, and Federal officials, and people across
levels of other organizations, need to have a plan and agree to the
timing of media opportunities.
pack mentality early on will push the limits of any rules set about
the length of the opportunity and the no-questions policy. (There
must be an escape route from the media area for speakers).
will want to follow up with individual interviews. Set the ground
and be consistent.
media who cannot be on site at the event or are prevented by the
of the public health emergency (e.g., the area becomes restricted)
to be given access to the center of action and response officials.
a way for local or regional media to speak in depth to subject
experts and ask questions that are specific to their region or population.
the chances that media in other local or regional areas get it
(right from the horse's mouth, so to speak) instead of translated
through national media back to them at the local level.
easily arranged in a crisis, unless resources and agreements are in
place in advance
reach; right only for very specific situations
a round robin of similar interviews, can burn out spokesperson.
News Conferences/Web Casts
far more media than just those at the site of the incident
community and national involvement give local and national media access
to response officials
the number of telephone lines to be adjusted according to rising or
falling interest from the media
are generally comfortable with this format
great flexibility in when and where
control by public information official of who has the toll-free number
be regularly scheduled to provide to the media information that
public needs and wants in order to protect themselves and their families
by assuring them of regular updates
allows last-minute changes in spokesperson (e.g., a new development
requires a new expert to appear or a spokesperson is called away
unavoidable reasons; it is easier to get a substitute)
for questions and whom is asking the question is announced by call
moderator (phone operator)
of all participants is provided by phone operator, even those not
asking a question, making news monitoring and analysis easier
be archived and made available to media after the fact
be recorded so transcripts can be supplied on request.
a funding source or contract in place in advance
can add up over time
to wean media from this format; regular calls should not be stopped
not fulfill the visual needs of TV news; favor print and Web media.
News Release Services
the need to maintain up-to-date media lists
releases move very rapidly to newsrooms
- A list
of media outlets that received the release is available
- A way
to reach media that may not be on your core media list but have
interest in what is occurring.
source must be in place in advance or it will be unworkable during
through a newswire may appear less than official for some types of
emergency information that, perhaps, should come directly from the
response organization to the newsroom.
may not be necessary and could waste resources when media are actively
engaged; more appropriate at less intense times during the emergency
Listserves And Broadcast Fax
can almost instantly reach out with information to the media on your
e-mail listserv at an imperceptible cost during the emergency.
are easy to make.
organization gets credit for having contacted reporters or outlets
are an open channel to media that (until the media yells "stop!")
allows you to feed them information at will.
require regular updating and maintenance - media moves around often
are a passive way to give the media information; some may not get
to your e-mail or broadcast fax until it is too late for them or
are not highly personal; media may still want a return phone call
require cleared print information, which is time-intensive for the
public information office and could slow down information flow from
the incident to the media.
as a rapid way to simultaneously update all media
transparent because the public and media will see the same information
on the site
the documents and create an historical record for media and the organization
links to help media collect background information
rumors, myths, and misinformation to be addressed without drawing
official video or pictures to be available to media digitally
frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the page to do double duty for
media and the public, providing a user-friendly way to educate both
during a crisis
inexpensive communication tool.
available to all public or media
frustrate media if too much information/links are provided or
organization of the Web site is not clear; media want it easy and
immediate (you may have to walk some of them through the site
the availability of a Web master throughout the crisis who is willing
to get updates posted to the Web site within the 2-hour window
should be maintained between release of information and its appearance
on the Web
dependent - may be vulnerable to glitches or interruption by hackers,
not satisfy the media's need to provide to the public information
that's not on the Web.
To Media Calls
can give you information you may not be aware of (e.g., a neighborhood
leader who is complaining that the response resources are not being
distributed fairly; it is a fact that some disgruntled publics will
call the media for resolution before they will call the responsible
inquiries may reflect the public's level of interest. The number of
calls and frequency of subjects raised can give the response community
a peek at what is important to the public and where more information
resources may need to be directed.
contact with the media allows emphasis on key message points, directs
media to upcoming issues, and corrects misinformation.
calls takes a lot of time.
exists for inconsistent or premature release of information, unless
press officers and spokespersons are well trained and coordinated.
(Note: Returning calls is not typically the role of the spokesperson.
If resources permit, establishing and training telephone teams is
important as they can handle phone communications).
calls may be required if information changes before the media/reporter
releases the information or you will be guilty of not giving them
the right information.
Tag is the name of the game.
prioritization is required, and the media will know if they are not
at the top of the list.
can become the public library or return calls on subjects not
area of responsibility unless the screening of calls is very well
done (If you have one, a telephone team can handle screening of
To Work With Reporters 27
with reporters, remember the following points.
want a front seat to the action and all information NOW.
will save relationships.
you do not have the facts, tell reporters the process.
are 70,000 media outlets in the U.S. media that cover the
To Media Errors: Misperceptions and Myths
actions give suggestions for dealing with errors that appear in media
the situation. What is your relationship with the reporter and
media outlet? Did the article attempt to be balanced? Was there truly
inaccuracy or was it a negative slant? Is the piece true, even though
it is "bad news"?
what to ask for. Retraction or correction? A correction in the
permanent record? Another piece that represents your point of view?
An apology? A letter to the editor or a guest editorial?
whom to contact. Reporter first, then the editor or producer.
If you have doubts about the integrity of the media, consider alternative
what you want to communicate. Develop your message carefully.
Have it reviewed. Frame it in a positive way. Include a call to action,
if appropriate. Focus on promoting public health. Keep any anger or
frustration you have at critics or the media out of the message.