Really, why does the media hate the police? Because we piss them off and treat them like the enemy. And, we are wrong. And they are not right. WTH are you talking about? Yep, blame is a two-way street and we need to own up to our part of being part of the problem. Let me explain.
We have a lot in common with the media. Really, we do. We both serve the public. We both want to protect our communities. We both depend upon community support to do our jobs. We both are deeply committed to our professions and want to be the best. We both experience pressures from a variety of sources that affect our mindset doing our jobs. And when either of us fails, it usually is not intentional. Mistakes do happen.
Of course, there are also some dramatic differences between us and the media. While we are not friends, we certainly don’t have to be enemies. Most often, we know the facts and circumstances of an event and they don’t. Our job is to solve the situation, theirs is to report and comment on the situation. And they will do their job whether we tell them the facts and circumstances or not.
Basically, the media wants four things from the police:
- Verification or clarification of what they heard elsewhere
- Opinions (ours and the communities)
- Photographs/video or some other visual item they can broadcast
Our job in giving these four things is to control the narrative, or message, the public receives. We have the information the media wants, so we are in control of message, not the media. In working with meeting what the media wants and needs we have an opportunity to gain the trust of the public. They can come to trust our department, our ethics and know we are truly there to protect and serve them.
In doing this, there a few things we should not do. Like shooting from the lip. If you are unprepared with the narrative and message, don’t try to wing it. Never assume the media won’t ask hard questions, they may very well have an agenda and will try to set you up with their questions. Classic example is in police chases that end up in an innocent citizen being hurt or killed. What’s more important to the police, catching the bad guy at all costs or the safety of the public? This where verbal judo skills come in handy. Use them to your advantage.
What should you do? Be polite and in control of the interview. Just like in an interview and interrogation setting, use your verbal and non-verbal skills to run the show. Always asks the media contact some questions before going on the record or video. Like, “What have you heard so far from other sources?” Know the narrative or message you want the public to hear. Your interview with the media is really you talking to the public, not the reporter. Don’t be a jerk!
The Law of Reciprocity is key to dealing with the media. What you dish out is what you will get in return. I recently had a threat and vulnerability discussion with some reporters of a network affiliate in Colorado. I asked what their biggest issue was in reporting crime and police incidents. I was anticipating it was going to be something related to their safety on the scene, maybe waiting a long time to talk to someone with authority to release information. Nope. Their issue? “I wish the PIO wasn’t such a jerk to us.” We are our own worst enemy when it comes to the media. The Us versus Them mentality has got to stop – beginning with us. That is why the media doesn’t like us. Because we treat them like we don’t like them.
Will we still clash with the media? Absolutely – there are jerks in the media too. But if we create the culture of police media relations that best helps us, then we win. What is that culture? We communicate and connect with the media with what is the acceptable way of thinking, talking and acting in relationship to the police. You crap on us unfairly, we turn off the spigot of information they need and want to deliver to their consumers.
If they treat us fairly and impartially, we keep them informed as best we can. And, we thank them occasionally for being fair and accurate. You are in control, not the media. Lay the ground rules and stick to them. The media will never “like” us, but they will respect our professionalism and efforts to help them do their job.
Another Law of Reciprocity – help others first to meet their needs, then they will help you meet yours. Bottom line – DON’T BE A JERK! Do the right thing, at the right time, the right way and for the right reasons. You will always come out ahead if you do.
Pat Welsh, a Best Selling Author of “Warrior, Servant, Leader: Life Behind the Badge,” and “Warrior, Servant, Leader: Life Behind the Cross,” Speaker and Trainer, is a retired Major of the Dayton Police Department. A graduate of the FBINA and Police Executive Leadership College, Mr. Welsh is also a member of IACP. Mr. Welsh specializes in law enforcement training, strategic work session, keynote speaking and leadership development for civilian law enforcement and USAF Security Forces personnel. Visit https://www.pjwelshllc.com to learn more.