Reports Examine Roles of Media and PIOs

In two separate reports, released by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) last week as part of Sunshine Week, crime reporters and police public information officers were asked about their perceptions of media control efforts, use of social media, body camera footage and public records.

The survey of law enforcement agency PIOs found that most maintain message control by requiring police officers to refer reporters to them when contacted directly by a reporter. A majority of PIOs also monitor the interviews they set up with reporters. Most said they monitored to make sure the officer doesn’t reveal information that is not part of the official message, although some said they were there simply to reassure a nervous officer who is not comfortable being interviewed, especially on television.

In the crime reporters survey, less than 15 percent of the crime reporters said they were able to get around the policy of having to go through a PIO to get an interview. The rest said they had to use the PIO if they wanted to talk to an officer or investigator. This holds true even at crime scenes. Reporters generally have to wait until the PIO shows up to find out what’s going on and, on rare occasions, talk to an investigator. However, for many, the PIO doesn’t come to the crime scene.
“Every journalist and public information officer should read these reports,” said Jonathan Anderson, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair. “The findings offer valuable insight into how law enforcement agencies handle information, how reporters work and what both camps can do better to serve the public.”
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