The press and the police
Contributed by journalist Terry Phillips ([email protected]). Contributed articles do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the ÆGIS e-journal. While this was written with law enforcement in mind, the advice given is appropriate for everyone who deals with reporters, and, thus, we felt its inclusion was warranted here.
Ever since the first scribe applied a chisel to a stone tablet, there has been a natural tension between journalists and law enforcement agents. Reporters want to reveal as much information as they can, while those responsible for security prefer to limit the leaking of what they know particularly if such facts are confidential or sensitive.
But as most professionals on both sides know, the news media can (and often do) serve the interests of law enforcement and vice versa. Whether it’s a beat cop, a homicide detective, or a private security agent, a smart officer will want to develop and maintain good working relationships with responsible journalists. (Yes, there really are some out there!)
Here are a few basic ground rules to keep in mind when dealing with the ladies and gentlemen of the press.
1. Be honest. Never, never, never, NEVER lie. If you don’t want to tell a reporter something, say so. But do NOT tell him or her something that is untrue. It will destroy your credibility. You can say “no comment” or “I don’t know” or “I’d rather not say right now.” Say anything you want as long as it’s not false.
2. Be careful. Always, always, always, ALWAYS assume that you are speaking “on the record” when you speak with a journalist. You might be able to get reporters to respect confidential information. (Most good ones do.) But there’s no guarantee. And if someone reports something that you said “off the record,” it’s still your responsibility.
3. Be smart. The media can be helpful in getting important information to the general public. So, when you have something important to say, don’t be afraid to ask the press for help. But avoid the temptation to make every case sound like the crime of the century. If you exaggerate often enough, you’ll be dismissed like the boy who cried wolf. Remember to protect your credibility.
4. Be open. Make yourself as available as you reasonably can to answer questions. Even when you think that you have nothing newsworthy to say, some reporters might want to clarify what they already know. If you shut out the media, they might report something inaccurately. And bad public information can make your job harder.
5. Finally, be a human being. Whether it’s a sound bite for a national network or a quote for a small town newspaper, you’ll communicate more effectively if you speak like a regular person. Avoid the clichés of police jargon. When you talk with journalists, keep in mind that you are not filing an official report. You’re talking to your neighbors.