OK, I get it. I've been a PIO. I know you're scared of saying the wrong thing and getting your tit in a wringer. And I know it ain't fun dealing with jerks in the news media. They want things done NOW. They'll quote you out of context. They'll make up stuff. They'll piss you off.
The difference with jerks like me is I've been in your shoes. I know what it's like to be a spokesperson for the department. More than that, I know what it's like to have one's tit in the wringer. In my case, the same man who campaigned for me to work at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Information Bureau had an emissary deliver the wonderful news: "Dean, we can't make you leave, but we were wondering..."
Being that I can take a hint-particularly when it's administered with a two-by-four-I made sure to check the door's proximity to my ass and never looked back. I don't miss the cauliflower ear from being on the phone all day and have the peace of mind of knowing I never got a callous on my tongue from biting it. Still, I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt.
But look: You are the P.I.O. (or P.A.O....P.O.S....whatever...). You are the face, the mouthpiece, and part-time figurehead. Perhaps, you ARE the head. You're the one who is supposed to be the contact for people like me. So don't be surprised when I contact you.
Having been there and done your job, I'm here to tell you—no, promise you—that I'll try to go out of my way not to set you up or burn you. Moreover, I'll guarantee the following to you:
I will give you ample lead time to help me out in coordinating interviews or getting information Admittedly, that's on my calendar, not yours. But surely three weeks is enough to at least let me know whether you've accomplished anything.
If you're worried about my quoting you, I'll let you review the draft before its submission. Nothing attributed to you will go to press without your approval. I'd much prefer you be candid with me without fear of being misquoted than print something that will tick you off and hurt my credibility with you and others.
Does this sound reasonable? I like to think so.
But there is a quid pro quo thing at work here: Don't jerk me around.
If you say you're going to do something and don't do it, and don't even bother to get back to me, then frankly: Screw you.
If you say you're willing to talk with me on something, then don't tell me anything, don't get pissed off when it doesn't go to print.
Finally, one doesn't write hundreds of feature stories, blogs, and Shots Fired columns without a helluva lot of help. In these efforts, I've dealt with a good many conscientious PIOs, including Seattle (at least, its former staff), Scottsdale, Salt Lake City, Pinellas County, Fla., and a good many others who've gone out of their way to help me out. If I had to say one state really has its act together when it comes to PIOs, it's Arizona. I can't recall an unpleasant experience with one of them.
This isn't to say that I've always gotten approval for what I've sought; sometimes, things otherwise fell through. But I always felt that these PIOs-both civilian and sworn-were dealing with me straight up and conscientious in their work.
I figure the lack of complaints by people I've dealt with is testimonial to the degree that I try and do right by them, as well.
But as of late I've taken to keeping records of every media inquiry made by taping every phone call and message left. It lets agencies know I made the effort to get their side of the story, and it covers my ass should they contend otherwise.
A-ha, but some of you are really clever-what if I can't reach you? I can almost hear your Wile E. Coyote invocation: "GENIUS!"
Look, if you're reticent to commit yourself to some salient thought, then simply say "No comment." Leave it open for me and others like me to make suppositions (I love it).
Now, about any of you to whom I owe magazines, or PDFs...