Dear News Media:
While Donald Trump continues to minimize the importance of a free press, I’d like to thank you for demonstrating integrity during the City of Orlando’s darkest days. Orlando experienced three traumatic events where lives were lost, hearts were broken and a lovely community was forced to look evil and sorrow in the eye. Each story in and of itself had news value, and together presented an extraordinary challenge to balance coverage of one horror after another.
Never has a crisis communications practitioner’s role become so critical in helping unassuming victims besieged by reporters from around the world. The public isn’t aware that within moments of a newsroom learning about major events such as young entertainer being assassinated, a massacre in a nightclub or the death of a child in a theme park, journalists have the ability to immediately reach victims’ cell phones. And they do. The stress of those already traumatized because they’ve been impacted by a catastrophic event is exacerbated by that unexpected call from a reporter. Unfortunate and painful, that is the world’s 24-hour, digital news cycle.
While you and I work on different sides, our roles are similar – getting the facts and ensuring that information shared is accurate. As a former newspaper reporter, I know well and appreciate your need for information and as soon as possible. Neither your job or mine is easy and on some days our differences are great.
In my near 20 years as a crisis manager, never have I simultaneously fielded thousands of calls, hundreds of emails and text messages, as I did when this trio of tragedies collided in just four days. I worked to respond to every news inquiry, including one or two that crossed every element of decency.
Journalists were respectful and as patient as they could be while they pursued every angle, asked the same questions over and over, made extreme requests and waited for answers. Some apologized for their questions and confided their own struggles with having to cover so much pain. Of particular significance is how almost every news outlet (there are always exceptions), editor, producer, and reporter stepped back and shared their intent to try to respect the privacy for a small child’s grief-stricken parents.
Kindness goes a long way. It’s also smart. To the high-level producer who berated me and challenged my integrity because she did not get what she wanted, virtually all of your colleagues who also didn’t get everything they wanted, remained professional and respectful and as a result got an extra dose of effort from me.
Criticism back and forth between media and PR practitioners is legitimate, frustrating, amusing and healthy. But journalists who are pragmatic, receptive to discussion and who focus more on being right than first, are inclined to get more information from the gatekeepers.
Mr. Trump needs to accept that one of the most important elements of our society that makes and keeps America great is a free press. I, for one, am thankful.