|Emergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)|
|Part 1: Information management systems|
The print and electronic media play a key role in informing the public about disasters: issuing warnings of coming hazards, collecting and transmitting information about affected areas, and alerting disaster response organizations to the particular needs of affected populations. Indeed, the quickest means of getting the international community to recognize the outbreak of sudden disaster or emergency conditions is clearly via the media.
Attempts to disseminate information through the media can, however, backfire on field staff. Instead of reporting what the field worker knows is critical information, a journalist can use an interview to tell the story that he or she wishes to tell - a story that may have little or nothing to do with the information the field worker wants to disseminate. Indeed, the images presented by the media are often of the horrors of the disaster with little focus on the achievements of the response. The consequence of such a media show is generally momentary interest on the part of the public, followed by a longer period of compassion-fatigue as response efforts viewed through the prism of negative images are deemed futile.
Emergency managers in their attempts to pre-empt such coverage should establish in advance - and then maintain - relationships with those journalists likely to take a professional interest in the organizations disaster management programs. Of particular importance to headquarters units is the opportunity to develop relationships with the news wire editors - those who determine much of what actually gets disseminated in the media.
Equally important is training of field staff in Media Management skills. Field staff who can act as effective spokespersons, trained to get their point of view across, are an increasingly essential asset of any disaster management organization dependent upon the good will of the public for its operating funds and material resources.
There are several means of disseminating information through the media. The UN World Food Program notes the following:12
· Press conference: A press conference is held only when the organization has something of critical importance to announce and somebody important available to make the announcement. The press conference should not last more than 30 minutes and consists of a brief (five minute) introduction and prepared statement followed by questions and answers. Preparation for a press conference should include a practice session at which likely sensitive questions are posed to the speaker who should try to formulate dear, succinct answers. A press release distributed at the start of the press conference helps to underscore the speakers message.
· The media briefing: A media briefing usually involves a small group of journalists selected by the organization who are known for their particular interest in a topic of concern to both sides. The briefing, held in the offices of the organization and generally more intimate than the press conference setting, is intended to familiarize the media with the work of the organization and to exchange ideas with the media. Regular briefings, often held by a designated spokesperson for the organization, permit the organization to cultivate close relations with particular members of the media, thereby enhancing the likelihood that the organizations message will be disseminated in times of need.
· Press release: A press release should be considered only when the organization has a newsworthy announcement to make. Timing of the release is crucial: dissemination by early afternoon, Monday through Thursday to the media is optimal. The release should be tightly written with the first paragraph containing the major point in not more than 50 words. Additional background detail may then follow. Ideally, the press release should be limited to no more than 450 words. One piece of paper, copied on both sides if needed, should be used (stapled sheets tend to separate and may be lost.) The names and contact numbers (telephone and fax) should always be included. As mentioned above, a press release should always be distributed at a press conference.
· One-on-one interviews: Private interviews are generally sought by journalists, although organizations seeking to disseminate information to a particular audience concerning an issue of special concern may request an exclusive interview. Whenever possible, the interviewee should be well-prepared with facts well-checked beforehand. It is considered acceptable to ask the reporter in advance about the general theme of questions. It is rare that a journalist will actually submit the specific questions in advance.
12 Dealing with the Media, WFP, unpublished training document, no date.