Cooperation With News Media: Takeaways From Honest Discussions

Recently, members of the San Antonio School Public Relations Association (SASPRA)

met with a group of reporters, photographers, producers, and management with WOAI/KABB-TV for a “Lunch and Learn” meeting to discuss some of the issues that seem to make the process rocky at times for both sides. I thought it might be helpful for others to see what the takeaways were, at least for me, to maybe spread some understanding among some other professionals who have similar challenges.

Takeaway one:

Reporter’s approach to “organically” get a story without going through a media liaison can hurt process. 

This was one of the more intense topics of discussion because reporters have assignments they are expected to fulfill and if they come back with less than what’s expected, they can be seen as not doing their job. What was brought to light was this; organizations like school districts have people that work with media. The reason, so a reporter can get straight to a source, if they’re available, quickly and efficiently.

Many times, the spokesperson comes from a journalism background and knows what’s needed, but open to discussion with specific reporter needs. Sometimes a reporter will call a teacher or principal directly because they were given a name or number. While this may be encouraged by a newsroom producer or even someone higher up the food chain, to possibly gain some inside information, it can be destructive too. Not cool.

“Many times, the spokesperson comes from a journalism background and knows what’s needed, but open to discussion with specific reporter needs.”

Making contact with the district’s media person is always the best start. Providing them a name and reason for doing the story is the best way. If they don’t get back to you within an hour followed by a reporter’s second contact attempt by a different way (text, email) then they at least did their diligence. Normally, this practice works well.

While reporters may feel like they can’t get the “real” story by going through a designated media relations person, I don’t think that’s altogether fair. I deal with plenty of benign or even negative stories and I will address what is necessary. Which brings me to the next point of discussion, when a spokesperson legally can’t publicly comment about an issue or question. Next time.

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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