Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do Federal Communicators Roadblock the Media? NAGC Weighs In

NAGC Director of Professional Development John Verrico weighed in on the recent survey by the Society of Professional Journalists that revealed that reporters feel that federal public affairs officers hinder their efforts to report on government issues. In a March 12 article in Government Executive, Verrico provided the following response:

“Government public affairs personnel should be considered a journalist’s best friend. Our role is that of a facilitator, not a blockade to a story. It is in the best interests of both of us to see that a reporter gets the information he or she needs in order to write an accurate account of whatever the issue may be. The luxury of having a dedicated beat reporter has become rare, so government spokespersons are working with general assignment reporters more often than not. For a reporter just coming onto a topic for the first time, it is beneficial to have someone to turn to for clarity and context that may not be apparent in a subject-matter-expert’s initial response to a question. It does no one any good if a story is inaccurate or incomplete or if the information is misunderstood.”

What is your response to this survey, and what steps do you take to ensure that the media has access to quick and accurate information? How do you communicate your protocol to media to help them understand that you aren't trying to block their access to information?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having worked in four federal agencies for more than 25 years, I can say that public affairs folks face common problems throughout government, compounded by circumstances and issues unique to each agency.

On the whole, the P.R. people I have encountered take their work seriously, are desirous of delivering news to the American people that they will find useful. In addition, that information at least ought to be crisp, succinct, clear, devoid of jargon, and communicate the bad news as well as the good – all in an objective way, yet in a manner that does not denigrate the agency, the government as a whole, nor the people that work in it.

In a recent phone conversation I had, a reporter called me and started off the discussion with these words: “Now, I know you have to put a positive spin on YOU FILL IN THE ISSUE, but could you provide me with background information on your agency’s position on the issue?

Here was a member of the media who, relying on me to give him information to do his work, tells me up front that what I write or the information I provide is just so much smoke and mirrors. And, having been presumptuous, the insinuation is that I
a. I am in agreement with his assessment
b. It is OK if the accuracy and clarity of the information along with its purpose and transparency of the process suffers as long as the article gets submitted on time

He might as well have called me a liar.

Often though, there are more mitigating circumstances surrounding an issue than meet the eye, and as the Public Information person not necessarily at the management table, I may not even be aware of what they are.

Often, there are legal implications of a given subject for which I must await a decision before releasing information.

In government, there are rarely simple answers, although I do try to communicate responses in a clear, straightforward, and understandable manner. In addition, I stick to – and advise you do the same – giving the best answer I can to your question, but am under no obligation to give you more than that.

Keep it short…sweet…and to the point.