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The Media:

Relationships with the media are discussed more extensively in a later chapter. For the present purpose, though, it is important to understand that members of the media are public stakeholders and have significant potential to positively influence the agency’s gaining authorization for its major goals and priority outcomes. Conversely, they have an even higher potential to influence the withholding of this authorization, especially with political stakeholders. Your strategic communication goal is to develop a trusting relationship with a well informed media, i.e., members of the media trust that they can depend on you and the agency as a consistent source of timely, accurate, truthful information.

The following activities will serve to solidify your relationships with members of the media and to assure the “trusting” relationships necessary for your mutual success.

1.   Develop a written news media policy for your agency. This policy should clearly articulate the perspective that the agency is a “public agency.” To be successful in achieving its mission, the agency must have public support. Developing and cultivating trusting relationships with members of the media are important ways the agency gains the public support it has to have.

2.   Secure media-related training for all staff designated to have direct contact with members of the media. Be sure to never lose the perspective that reporters are well-trained professionals who are specialists in their field. For the most part, agency staff members are amateurs. They need to understand how media people work and what they are looking for. Those agency staff who interact with reporters need to know how to consistently respond appropriately and effectively, regardless of the issue or circumstance. Within this context, impart to all agency staff the philosophy that appropriate and effective relationships and communication with the media are vital to building legitimation and support within the agency’s authorizing environment.

3.   Establish ongoing, personal contact with reporters and editors. Talk with them regularly and send them informative materials that may have news value or add to their understanding of the agency and of child protection. Of course, they will not print everything you send to them. They are the judges of what is and is not newsworthy. Even so, your consistent efforts to keep in touch will benefit the agency in the long run. You may also want to consider having a reporter spend time in the agency as a strategy for familiarizing the reporter with some aspect of what the agency does and with its complexity. If you do this, understand that all of the reporter’s experience in the agency is available to him (or her) for inclusion in an article or story, unless explicitly excluded by mutual agreement. Whether you pursue this option or not, always be a reliable source of information that the reporter can count on.

4.   Learn as much as you can about how reporters do their jobs. If you can arrange it with a reporter with whom you already have a good working relationship, spend some time with him discussing how he does his job and what his typical day is like. Perhaps include a visit to the media outlet if that can be arranged. These types of activities not only give you a better understanding of the media but also demonstrate that you are serious about having good relationships with the media.

5.   Create a 24-hour media hotline to answer reporters’ questions and publish its availability to the media.

6.   Give the reporter a table of organization for the agency and explain the positions, who currently fills the positions, and the function of the positions.

7.   Develop opportunities to help the reporter understand the steps a case goes through from the time a report of suspected abuse or neglect is made to the agency until the case is closed. Help him understand the roles of agency staff as well as that of the district attorney, the court, mental health, substance abuse, and others in the Children’s Safety Net who may become involved. (See the first Addendum to the Introduction.)

8.   Explain to the reporter the appropriate laws and agency policies that govern what information you can share and what you cannot share. This will be especially useful in times of crisis so be sure to share the information when there is no crisis.

9.   Constantly collect and, when asked, share data concerning the characteristics of the children and families served by the agency and in your community. Be honest and forthcoming about what needs the agency and the Children’s Safety Net are meeting and about what needs are not being adequately met.

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