A few months ago, there was fight in one of the high schools in the valley. Students that witnessed the fight, filmed it and posted it on social media. The fight went viral, which brought every news agency in the Salt Lake area to Cache County to fuel their next story. The different news agencies raced to be the first to report on the story, have the best perspective, and get the public to react. One of the news agencies came to interview us, and that’s where the problem began.
We told them what had happened and because of the age of the teenagers, we could not reveal many details. The reporter then asked about the Juvenile Justice System and the reason information could not be revealed. The interview ended after explaining the difference between adult court and the juvenile court.
Tip #1 – Anytime you or your organization is interviewed, make sure you watch the story on the news that night!
I watched the news that evening and was somewhat surprised at what I heard. Out of the entire interview about the fight, the only part they used from us was the part where we talked about the Juvenile Justice System and why it exists. Something was said in effect of:
Kids will be kids and they often make mistakes.
Tip #2 – Even after the interview, they are still recording any conversation that happens and will use it for their stories. The part on the Juvenile Court System came after the official interview about the fight.
The entire news report on the fight made it look like the Sheriff’s Office was downplaying the seriousness of the crime. As you can imagine, the public was not very happy about tone and message that the Sheriff’s Office seemed to have.
Tip #3 – Engaging with the public outside of your official page builds credibility and trust. Follow the story on all avenues of social media. Read all of the comments and participate where necessary to make sure people understand your official view on the topic.
I began to scan social media about the fight and discovered that people were misunderstanding the statements from the Sheriff’s Office because of how it was edited. It appeared that the Sheriff’s Office was minimizing the seriousness of the crimes. This was because the quote from the Sheriff’s Office was taken completely out of context from a moment that wasn’t about the fight or the individuals involved. I spent the next 4 hours commenting on posts made by the public to explain our position, and correct the misinformation.
Tip #4 – When responding to posts, call people by name, make it personable, and acknowledge their concern.
I began to explain that the we were disappointed in the news agency for misrepresenting our official view on the tragic event. I explained that we take these matters very seriously. The juvenile was arrested for the suspected crimes, and now it was up to the Juvenile Court to charge him if necessary. People began to thank us for clarifying our view and began to turn against the news agency calling them out on their misrepresentation of the facts. I responded to the news agency on their post explaining our concern in hope that they would respond and correct the information.
Tip #5 – Once a story has been posted, they have already moved on to another story. The news agency will rarely follow the comments, or have any desire to correct the tone of the story. Directly contacting the reporter is your best option.
After about 4 hours with no comments or communication from the news agency, it was time to get the story corrected and make sure that people understand our official statement.
Tip #6 – Twitter is your most powerful tool. It promotes transparency and it is public. Once something is posted on Twitter, it’s there for everyone to see.
I posted two tweets directly at the news agency saying that we were disappointed in how they misrepresented us and explained what our official view was. I also tagged the reporter. Within 30 minutes, we had a reply from the reporter with a cell phone number. They wanted to make everything right and were wondering what they could do. I explained how the story misrepresented our view and the reporter tried to defend their position saying that they watched the story multiple times with their editor and could not see any problems. (The media is often blind to their agendas or the message they are trying to get across. Read more about why the media does this) I then mentioned all the comments on social media where people were upset about how the Sheriff’s Office “responded” to the incident. They were clueless. The reporter was shocked that we had spent the time to clarify our view on the public’s comments and was slightly worried about the negative comments from the public made towards their agency. The reporter was also very concerned about their future creditability because of our tweets.
Tip #7 – Trust is earned. Interact with the public and your communities personally and online to gain their trust. If they know they can count on you for information, they will come to you first over the media. They will also defend you when you are misrepresented.
We were able to work out a solution, and still have a good relationship with the specific news agency. The most important thing that came from this experience is that the news agency learned we follow social media and mentions of our organization. We correct any misinformation, and actively engage in helping the public know the complete story to the best of our ability. They are less likely to misrepresent us in the future.