On the information superhighway, your critical Coronavirus emergency messaging may be hitting a roadblock on its way to reaching one critical external stakeholder – the news media. How do you know if your messages are sitting at a stop sign or not? Public information and public affairs officers need to know that what they’re putting out is getting picked up and reported.
Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Mark Katches spoke with me for our latest Alexa Flash Briefing on the PAST Fusion Cell News Line. The Tampa Bay Times audience is more than a quarter million hard copy subscribers and six million unique visits per month on its website at www.tampabay.com.
For all government communicators, the mainstream news media still serve a hefty population that you should be tapping into to make sure you’re connecting with local audiences. Katches told me for those who send press releases: “I urge communication folks to follow up with e-mails. It’s literally a fire hose of information right now. Some stuff will fall through the cracks.” Katches says if you’re not seeing your messages as expected on media channels, it’s up to you fix that communication gap: “The communication professionals are making sure they are sending follow up e-mails with questions like, ‘did you see that previous e-mail?’”
Katches believes that you need to also think about traditional forms of communication. He urges communicators to pick up the phone and dial newsrooms to make a crucial one-on-one connection: “Today in my newsroom, everyone is a coronavirus reporter.” Argonne PAST Fusion Cell instructors have preached relationship-building in classes for years. Katches told me it’s vital you connect, right now: “It’s a time when relationship-building is going to be put to the test. In our business, the link between reporting and the communication professional world, there’s a lot of interaction and there is an opportunity to build relationships and build a level of trust. Give us a heads-up if you think something new is going to be released, if you can. A lot of news is dropping on social media right now. That’s how we are finding out about it right now. Official sources are posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s just a matter of working with the newsroom and the reporters to keep us in the loop about what’s happening.”
When it comes to how his newsroom is validating COVID-19 information and keeping it current with the constant 24-hour-flow of information, Katches says: “There is some confusion coming from the official world with health agencies. The government is releasing updated counts of those who are sick or tested positive. Some of that is coming after midnight. They don’t always match up with what’s put on the government websites. Basic rule of thumb is messages are more credible when they are consistent. When messages don’t synch up, we have to work extra hard to get the facts right.” Katches says his reporters are keeping a close eye on verified Twitter accounts because a lot of news is happening there: “It’s the easiest way to disseminate information right now and it has been a major source of news.”
For the Tampa Bay Times, the bottom line is its dedication to getting the facts and the story right, the first time: “This is one of the most challenging stories that I’ve seen in my career. I’ve never seen anything like it because there is no fixed end point. What we are seeing here underscores the vital significance of reliable, local journalism in your community.”
If you would like to hear the entire interview with Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Mark Katches click on the Mp3 link below.