Every day I arrive at the office, run through the 200 or so emails I’ve gotten over night, scan the headlines of the local papers and the wires, make a list of everything I need to check on and then I get on the phone and make some calls.
One of the most valuable (and potentially one of the worst) resources I have for information as a journalist is the Public Information Officer. When they are good at their jobs, they are great, but they are bad they can make an Assignment Editor’s life miserable. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really amazing professionals in my 22 years as an Assignment Editor. Men and women who understand that we need to have a symbiotic relationship. Then there are those who act as if it’s chore to do what their job title implies - inform the public.
So what does it take to be a great PIO in the eyes of a journalist?
First and foremost they need to be accessible. To me that means they check emails and voice mails constantly when on duty and respond to messages of an urgent nature quickly.
When they are off duty they have a system set up where they or someone can be reached if information is needed after hours, while in meetings or while on vacation. We know you don’t work 24 hours a day but someone is always in the newsroom (and we have lots of questions) so empower people in organization to give you a helping hand when you’re not around.
Secondly, they need to be truthful and fair. I’ve had PIOs just flat out lie to me about what’s happening at an incident or given information to a competitor they did not share with me even when asked direct questions. Getting information to the public is not their or my time to settle scores or be petty. We don’t have to be friends but we do have to be professionals so let’s get together after work and talk about why you’re mad at me or my newsroom and work it out so we can come together.
Finally, they should have an idea of how newsrooms work. What’s an assignment editor do? What about a producer? Have you ever been in a newsroom? Set up a tour and meet the folks you talk to on the phone, invite them to your office so they can see what it’s like for you. I’ve personally benefited from doing ride alongs, visiting comm centers and also from inviting communicators, police, firefighters and PIOs into the newsroom to take a look around.
It helps all of us to understand the challenges we all face so we can work together to keep the public up to date and safe.
AnnMarie Breen, Assignment Editor
WTVD ABC 11, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina