I wrote and rewrote this post several times. The first draft was too flippant, the second too stodgy. Unlike Goldilocks, I didn’t get it right on the third time, either. Truth is, writing a post about the media is difficult for me. I, like many police officers, have a love/hate relationship with them. That said, I once dated a news photographer, developed friendships with journalists, and staunchly believe that officers and reporters pursue the same goal—to present the truth.
So what’s the problem? Well, it’s complicated.
Media training for officers starts in the police academy. I forget how many hours the class encompassed, but the message that stuck with me was simple: keep your mouth shut. As patrol officers, our job wasn’t to disseminate information or offer opinions. Frankly, we were happy to pass the buck to the supervisor or the public information officer.
But journalists are deadline driven, and they will badger* officers until someone breaks and says something** just to make them go away.
*My word. I’m sure they considered themselves merely tenacious.
** Usually snide. Officers are masters of sarcasm.
Which leads to the second lesson in media relations: if it feels good to say, it’s probably the wrong thing—and guaranteed to lead the evening news or appear above the fold.
As a police captain, I received additional media training, including graduate-level courses at the FBI National Academy. There, I trained to handle the worst of journalistic behavior while keeping my composure. I learned how to parry interruptions, accusations, and anger with redirection, professionalism, and compassion. In a twist of karmic payback, I became my agency’s spokeswoman.
Despite knowing journalists are remarkably similar to cops, I’ve never moved beyond thinking of the media as wild animals. Sure, they look cute and cuddly, but never turn your back on the pack or they’ll tear you to pieces.
Mer shares my opinion.
A satellite media van pulled into the parking lot.