Well, that was a whirlwind of a Monday afternoon.
The news that Martha Johnson had resigned her post as General Services Administration administrator broke around 3:40 Monday afternoon. By that time of day, we're usually taking stock of our stories and beginning to plan out the lineup for the next day's e-mail newsletter.
But the GSA turmoil changed all that. In the days when the news media consisted of daily newspapers and broadcast, it would have been a "stop the presses!" moment. Nobody doubted that we needed to chase the story and try to nail down some information useful to our unique group of readers.
In a case of very bad timing, our GSA reporter Matthew Weigelt is on vacation this week. Instead, we put Camille Tuutti and Alice Lipowicz on the story, and I, your humble news editor, took part as well. Over the next two hours we talked to Bob Woods and Jonathan Aronie, found Johnson's resignation letter and studied the Inspector General report for details. We republished our story several times, adding detail and clarification with each iteration.
Finally, as afternoon was giving way to evening, we published the final version and called it done. Such moments can be exhilarating, and also exhausting. But these are the stories that matter most to our readers, and delivering accurate and timely information to people who want or need it is at the heart of what we do.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Apr 03, 2012 at 7:26 PM0 comments
Maybe I spoke too soon.
On the same day I wrote and published an entry assuring public affairs officers that most reporters are responsible professionals just trying to serve the public, media watchdog Jim Romanesko published this item: A reporter for the Daily Caller apparently threatened to make up a source’s response to a question if the source didn’t respond to inquiries.
The question pertained to whether Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, still has confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder in the wake of the Fast and Furious scandal. Reporter Matthew Boyle wanted a comment from Brad Woodhouse, communications director of the Committee. And when he didn’t get one, Romanesko reports, Boyle told him: “I’m giving you until 10 a.m. tomorrow to answer this question, then I’m reporting Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not supporting Holder. “
When other reporters asked Boyle to explain what looks like a blackmail attempt, he told BuzzFeed that wasn't the case. “I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder," he said in BuzzFeed's report.
Well, maybe. But his e-mail to Woodhouse clearly says that what he planned to report was that Wasserman Schultz “is not supporting Holder,” which is different from “would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support…” One is a definitive statement of a position, the other expresses insufficient information. Not really the same thing.
So there was that, and then there were some reader comments on my earlier post telling me that I must not know how many reporters operate these days. One anonymous commenter advised me, “You need to survey the public affairs specialists on the crap journalists pull.”
OK. Challenge accepted. Public affairs officers, private-sector PR pros, and reporters too … comment here or e-mail me your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org. Am I too idealistic about the high ethical standards of many in my field? Or are the senationalizers and ethically-challenged a rare exception?
If enough people have enough to say, I’ll highlight the best stories in a future entry and possibly in our print edition as well.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 15, 2012 at 7:26 PM4 comments
Alice Lipowicz reports on a survey of journalists who say that federal agencies almost always restrict access to agency officials for interviews.
An agency's public affairs department can be either a blessing or a curse for a journalist, sometimes a bit of each. The release of the survey provides an opportunity to offer some tips for public affairs officers who want to help get their agency's message out. (Sometimes the PAO's job is to try to prevent reporters from getting access or information; the tips below won't be of much help in those cases.)
* Make officials available as quickly as possible. Reporters work on deadlines, and if you can line up an interview appointment two days after the deadline passes, it does no good.
* While monitoring the interview, let the interviewee answer the questions. Speak up if the interviewee misspeaks, or to fill in data that the interviewee doesn't have at his fingertips, but otherwise sit back and let the agency official do most of the talking.
* Respond quickly if a reporter needs a few facts for an article, or to clarify something said in an earlier interview. Again, time is usually a factor, especially for reporters writing for an online news site or daily newspaper.
* Don't ask to see an article before publication. Most reputable media outlets won't allow this, but most reporters will be happy to discuss specific points where you might be concerned about a misunderstanding.
* Be pro-active about promoting positive news, including offering officials for interviews. The media is often accused of never covering the good news, but that is in part because people don't let us know when there is good news. We're not mind-readers. Well, not most of us.
* A reporter's relationship to the organizations on which he or she reports can sometimes be adversarial. Our job is to inform the public, not necessarily to make a particular agency look good. But most reporters are responsible professionals who aren't interested in sensationalizing the news. We appreciate candor, and we need responsiveness, and we try to report fairly and accurately. A good public affairs officer can play a pivotal role in making that possible.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 14, 2012 at 7:26 PM3 comments