I understand how difficult it is to be a PIO or PR rep during breaking news or a developing situation.  (For rest of post I will use PIO-Public Information Officer-to refer to all media reps.)  I relate to your job as I compare it to that of my own as an assignment editor.  I only know what is happening by what I’m told by news crews on scene, witnesses or PIOs; or by what I hear on the scanners. 

Producers, writers, editors, managers, reporters, photographers constantly ask me for more details.  I provide all I can, but sometimes my information is nominal.  I’m not on the scene.  I can’t do more than make the calls and listen to the scanners.  I pass on the information as soon as I get it.  Often I pass on unconfirmed reports so the news crews know what I’m hearing.  At that point I depend on the reporter to confirm the information or rely on a PIO to call with information.

I understand a PIO is often in the same position with access to limited amounts of information, especially in a breaking news situation.  While crews and staff are actually working to solve the crime or respond to an incident, a PIO is left with little information, often just the information called into dispatch; which is information I most likely heard paged out on the scanners.  Until information is given to the PIO, little information can be shared or confirmed for media.


Then as the breaking news turns into a developing story I understand the role of the PIO is first to best support the investigation and second to informing the media.  I know there are times details are not released for the sake of the investigation.  Every journalist knows this is the case.  We still ask the questions though to try to confirm the tips and details we’ve been given by others.  Sometimes the relationship between a PIO and media is very open when media is needed to disperse information to the public.  Sometimes the relationship is very guarded when the situation has little information that is available to the media.  This is how it works.  I get it.

The explanation of I get it will make it clear this post is not about ranting and raving and blaming.  I have a suggestion on how to prevent a situation I found myself in today.  I was given the home number of a PIO by accident by someone at the PIOs office.  The person who gave it to me believed it was the office phone and explained to me that I would need to leave a voicemail.  I was shocked when the line was answered by the PIOs spouse.  My call to the PIOs home was very unwelcome.  That was made very clear to me.  I apologized several times for the entire situation and explained how the mistake happened.  I did not know I was calling a home number.

As much as I understand how my call was an invasion to their home; I was also upset at how it all happened.  I was shocked by how I was treated over the phone, but that’s not what upset me.  I was upset because this call could have been avoided all together.  My coworker left a voice mail for the PIO before 9am.  Around 11am I called dispatch and requested for someone to call the station.  Around 1pm a photographer on scene asked the investigating crew to have a PIO call the station.  Finally at 2:15pm I called the district station directly.  I asked if a press release would be coming out and if I could speak to a PIO.  That’s when I was given the wrong number.

CBS4 News was not the only media on this story.  The Denver Post  first published a story at 9:23:57am.  I do not believe this station was the only station asking for details. 

My suggestion is simple and I hope it would eliminate any future mishaps like today: Take a preemptive strike!

When you know a situation is going to be followed by the media, contact us early to let us know you’re aware media wants details, but that none are available at this time.  It would further be helpful to include if you think you’ll be able to provide information sometime that day and if you will do interviews, in person, on the phone, on camera, etc. 

One mass email with this information would prevent a mishap like today.  No, I can’t say this little amount of information will satisfy all media for the entire day, but it would assure media that you are aware of our requests and needs.  It would give you time to breath, time to talk to people and time to figure out what can be released to the media.