Media not responsible for your public goofs

In Summary

•Media handling, messaging and coverage are skills that are taught and mastered over years.

•In serious institutions, such skills are highly valued, nurtured, resourced and protected. 

A vendor displays newspapers in a stand in Nairobi.
A vendor displays newspapers in a stand in Nairobi.
Image: FILE

Time and again, institutions have been advised to invest in communication and structured pro-active disclosure of well-packaged information as a way of telling their story but are reluctant to do so.  They are still stuck in the traditional approach of crisis communication, long boring speeches of information already on their online platforms or attempted media buy out through bribery or threats around withholding advertisements to deal with their public appearances. For that, they always attract media coverage that seem to be negative or fails to their advance their agenda, to which they easily turn to blaming the media or journalists. For this failure to upgrade their approaches to communication, they spend heavily on fighting the fire all the time including harassing journalists, which denies them, the opportunity to tell their story professionally other than sponsored content. Don’t push your failures and inefficiencies to the media.

It’s the responsibility of institutions especially public including political parties that are being funded from the public coffers and in respect of the access to information provisions in our laws, to invest in not only sharing quality, accurate and timely information, but through trained spokespersons, who respect their offices, journalists and Kenyans. Remember also, not all people who call you claiming to be journalists are journalists thus be on the look out for cons.

Cases of branding journalists unfair by institutions are common not because journalists did anything wrong but because of arrogance, entitlement or lack of tact by such institutions or their representatives are very common. Many institutions have left their media relations and information handling to fixers and “consultants” instead of professional communication experts, who mislead or mishandle their communication chain, but whenever media coverage is deemed negative, they turn their ire on journalists. You cannot leave such critical function like media handling to amateurs and brokers and expect serious coverage. Media coverage is more than just “releasing” journalists, fixing or intimidating the press.

Media handling, messaging and coverage are skills that are taught and mastered over years, and in serious institutions, such skills are highly valued, nurtured, resourced and protected. Institutional spokespersons and heads need to be inducted on media relations, public speaking, handling media, messaging, crisis communication and protocol, and its only where such has happened that the information flow from, public image of the organization and messages from such organizations and individuals help a lot media coverage.

However, this hardly happens in our institutions, worst of all in political parties and the best such organizations without a structured media handling strategy do when they fail to deal with media professionally is to revert to abuses, harassment and general condemnation of journalists.

Kenya currently has nearly 200 radio station, 92 television stations, 100 print publications and over 15000 media practitioners-giving out news in over 60 languages including vernacular.  The media have a highly structured a news gathering, processing, quality control and distribution chain that ensures the public receive high quality information.

The news gathering process involves quality control and verification, so the many people who are involved in the production line- news editors, sub editors, chief sub editors, associate editors, managing editors and editors in chief will require clarity or more information at the different levels- so news sources will be called separately, not to kill or seeking for favours, but ensure quality and professionalism.  While the print colleagues will be satisfied with written text, radio colleagues require sound bites while TV requires in addition to sound, visuals and photos.

Journalists are taught that press releases are merely a tip, and press conference stories are not complete without additional questions and probing- so organizations that feel irritated upon sharing a press release follow ups by journalists or whisky away their bosses immediately after a presser or refuse to take questions from the press have failed miserably in their work.

Journalism is a profession with a code of ethics, systematic way of teaching and examination way and theories of teaching it. They are highly educated and professionals that know how to do their work and where they do a mistake, there is a structured way of handling such professional mistakes.