What would happen if a TV reporter arrived at your school and starting asking sensitive questions of staff with the camera rolling? Would they know what to do?
This is one reason why you need a media policy. This does not have to be a huge document that sits in a bookcase gathering dust. But it does need to clearly outline what all staff should do in all potential media scenarios.
For example, if there is a serious allegation against a staff member, what is the policy? This can lead to all sorts of media scrutiny. Reporters may approach teachers, the caretaker, and anyone else who may give them an interesting comment.
It only takes one off-the-cuff comment to turn a relatively minor issue into a full blown crisis. It must be made clear to everyone at school how they must deal with any scenarios like this.
The staff members most at risk of this are receptionists because they are on the front line.
Let’s take another scenario. A media crew arrive in the reception area and request an interview with the Principal about the school’s recent cases of bullying. The receptionist makes some remark like, “We don’t have a problem with bullying,” then makes a phone call through to the Principal whispering something like, “There’s a TV crew here who want to talk to you about our problem with bullying.”
She then tells the reporter that the Principal is in a meeting so can’t see them. They leave happily. Then the TV news story that night leads with, “School refuses to comment on bullying accusations.”
The reporter then says “While the Principal was unwilling to comment, when we put the accusation to another spokesperson, her response was”: Then they play the clip of the receptionist saying “We don’t have a problem with bullying,” giving the story an even more negative slant. To make matters worse, they then play the footage of the secretive phone call.
While this is an extreme example, it happens. But with a media policy in place, it would never get this far. That’s because the receptionist would know exactly what to do and say. The Principal would also know how to deal with the intrusion.
With any media policy, there must always be someone specifically designated to act as a media liaison person, and someone to fulfil the role of media spokesperson. The spokesperson is usually the Principal, or in some instances, the Board Chair. Ideally both would have the skills to deal with this as a back-up is always advisable.
While most school leaders see the media as a threat, fostering a good relationship with journalists can lead to favourable coverage in target media. This does wonders for a school’s reputation in the good times by offering journalists interesting story ideas. It also helps limit the damage in bad times as journalists go easier on people they have formed a relationship with.
The media liaison officer plays an important role in maximising positive media coverage of the school. In some cases this can be the same person as the spokesperson, but it could be anyone from a DP to an AP to a PA.
This would be clearly outlined in the policy.
The roles of media liaison officer and spokesperson are vital. But as we’ve seen, it’s important that every staff member knows what to do and say around media. In other words, it must be a team effort reflected in the media policy. For example, if a staff member is approached about a sensitive issue, the policy should outline that the only reply should be “you’ll have to speak to X about that.”
While there will be similarities with media policies between schools, each one will still be unique. One area where they will differ will be with their exceptions to the spokesperson rule. For example, sports coaches may be free to talk to local sports media about games, or a teacher may be able to talk as a spokesperson for an outside interest, as long as it is clearly laid out to the reporter that she is not talking on behalf of the school.
Often a media training course is a good idea for spokespeople, as media interviews are like no other conversation and can trip up even the best communicators. A course for media liaison officers is also beneficial for those unaware of how the media works and what journalists want.