The FCW Insider offers some tips for agency public affairs officials.
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.