Monday, October 20, 2014

Where did you begin?

I can remember the conversation as if it happened yesterday. A new PIO had started with a local law enforcement agency, and she had been instructed to take the G290 Basic PIO class with me. We spoke for a few moments - she in a very clipped tone with me - and eventually asked me flat out, "Just WHAT will I learn taking this class from you? I worked in the media for the past ten years, and I know everything there is to know about this field."

Ever have one of THOSE phone calls?
I can also vividly remember a different conversation that started at lunch during a training exercise. A large group of us PIOs had gotten together, and were having a lively conversation, when one of the people at our table mentioned that she didn't think former reporters could do a good job as a PIO, because they didn't have any inside knowledge of how the organization works.

And that, my fair PIO friends, is an interesting dynamic set forth today in the world of PIOs. As the number of journalism jobs decreases in newspapers and broadcast outlets seek to contain costs, many journalists are finding themselves out of work or looking to leave the 24-hour news cycle to get into public information work. This is often referred to by journalists as 'going to the dark side.'

You see, it's not so bad here on the dark side!
All of the experience that a former journalist can bring to an organization is certainly seen as an asset. After all, former journalists know the news cycle, are strong writers, are able to discern what makes news and - if they stay in the market they worked in, they already have a reputation - good or bad - that serves as a calling card.

Knowing about your agency and media needs is critical
This doesn't automatically mean that former journalists are better PIOs. In fact, journalists who worked as general assignment reporters, while fully immersed in news craft, have in many cases a cursory level of experience of what a firefighter, police officer or some other employee may do.

PIOs promoted from within an organization have intimate knowledge of policies and procedures, and can offer that depth of experience to reporters on scene. However, the job of a PIO isn't the same as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, who is more concerned about actually battling a blaze or apprehending a suspect. To an incident commander who may not understand the importance of the role of a PIO, he or she may dismiss you as a member of the media yourself and ask you to go stand behind the tape with the reporters on scene. Believe me, it happens.

Media relations is key to just about any event
So, with this post out there, I'd like to find out a little bit about each of you. Did you come to the world of PIO 'through the ranks' of your organization, or do you come from the world of media? I'd be interested to see where everyone's from.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

1 comment:

  1. Former colleagues may accuse us of 'going to the dark side' but, for many journalists who have become PIOs, 'defense against the dark arts' is part what we now practice.