Don’t Say What You Don’t Know

I have to believe some of those great information officers I’ve worked with cringe when they hear “news briefings” that are neither. They carry no definite information pertaining to the story. And, the “briefings” often carry an obvious political aspect, as a waiting line of government officials come to the mic, and say what a bad day it is. Sure it’s a bad day. Your parking lot wouldn’t be full of reporters if it was an ordinary day.

Don’t call a news conference until you have some information. Don’t bait reporters into a “I don’t have that information” fest. Set a definite time for a news conference where some information can be offered, then promise more when you can. Even better, set a schedule for updates, and tell reporters you will meet with them at those times, and will offer any new information. If there is no new information, you can either say so, and walk away, or review what -is- known for possible late comers.

To their great credit, the PIO’s I’ve depended on were always good to tell “what we know right now.” This happy hint from an outdated geezer: Reporters have to develop an eyeball to eyeball relationship with a PIO before the “big story” happens. Otherwise, you have no more advantage than a reporter from the other side of the world.

I’ve worked with information officers to what I believed was in the best interest of the community, decency and privacy of grieving family members, or respect for the dead. The trust has to be mutual.

This isn’t a story specifically involving a PIO, but it speaks to trust that you develop BEFORE something big happens. An Atlanta Police Officer was shot to death during a holdup. I was listening to the scanner in the newsroom when I heard the suspect was cornered at a house. I called the homicide commander, and his answer was ” I’ll give you the information first, I’ll call you first. But if I hear it before it happens, I’ll kick your ass up and down Peachtree Street. Yes, we have him inside a house, but we haven’t moved in, I’ll call you in a little bit” And he did.

Bottom line: Be as prepared as you can to provide information. Don’t gather reporters to say what you don’t know. Reporters: plan, plan, plan.

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