A major responsibility of the public information officer is knowing the various deadlines of the media you work with on a regular basis. If your information gets to the media after the deadline; it is not going to make the news.
Deadline means the time a story has to be submitted so it can either be printed or put on the air. By getting your information in before the deadline gives the reporter or producer time to work on it and not be rushed. It is probably one of the single most important issues of the media.
First, call all of the media and ask what their deadlines are for various editions or programs. And then ask them what their "drop dead" deadline is. Drop dead deadline means they absolutely cannot submit anything else. On deadline there is a chance you could get something in if it is a breaking story or an important fact. But don't abuse getting information in on the drop dead deadline this is something that should be done only once or twice a year.
Once you know what each of the media's deadline is, figure out how long it is going to be for you to prepare the information for them. My minimum is to get things in no less than one hour before deadline. If I am setting something up where I expect the media is going to do staged, taped interviews, I try to set it up at least two to three hours before deadline so they have time to write the story or edit their tapes.
For instance, let's say your department is going to do a holiday fire safety press conference. The first issue is to figure out what day of the week you want to do it. In our community I would do it Monday thru Thursday. We have a major newspaper, which publishes Monday thru Friday, not on the weekends. If I do it on a Friday, I will not get their readership. I would expect the television media will attend so I will want to make it so they have a couple of hours to prepare their story either for the Noon news program or the four o'clock program. So in my case, I would aim for either 10 AM or 2 PM.
After a fire, I usually prepare the media release and disseminate it within an hour after I leave the incident. When I am ready to send it out via the fax machine, I check the time to see if anyone is on deadline. For those who are close or on deadline, I will send the release to them first, and then send it out to the rest of the media via the fax program. I will also call the ones I sent it to special and let them know because they are on deadline. By calling them, I am sure they are aware that it is being sent to them special. Sometimes I stay on the phone while they are receiving it to make sure they do not have any questions.
If you are at a working or large incident and some of the media is on deadline, call them from the scene and give them a "heads up." They may not have the time to write an entire story, but they may be able to get a small brief (paragraph or a few lines) in. It is the same with radio; many times I will call them at least ten minutes before the hour from a working incident knowing that the next news program is on the hour, to see if they want any updated information. For this reason it is important to make sure you have a watch or other timepiece with you so you know what time it is.
Knowing deadlines is an important element in what I call "tactics & strategy" when working with the media. There are times when and when not to release information to the media. Timing for some of your stories will be critical and how and when you release that information could be of vital importance in some cases. Knowing the media's deadline is critical when you plan your timing.
I will discuss more on "tactics & strategy when working with the media" in future articles here on Firehouse.Com. This is the first key part.