Bad News, Good Technique

It’s not often that I get a text from a network journalist praising the work of a police spokesman.

But that’s what happened in the immediate aftermath of the tragic high school shooting in Centennial, Colorado.

This journalist, a former colleague of mine, noted Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson’s cool-headedness and articulate delivery, going so far as to liken him to a trusted television news anchor, calmly leading his community and, at that moment, his viewers through the crisis.

As soon as I was able, I found the clips of Sheriff Robinson. And I have to say I agreed with my former colleague. Take a look and see if you do too.

Grayson under pressure

Some thoughts from my former colleague:

In dealing with the gunman and victims, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department invoked what it calls an “Active Shooter Protocol.” But Sheriff Robinson also turned to what could be described as an Active Media Protocol. Robinson showed a clear understanding of working with journalists, in a way that benefited not only news organizations, but more important, the general public:

  • Robinson’s agency didn’t just respond well. It was ready long before December 13th.
  • His constant updates were calm, detailed, and likely kept panic to a minimum.
  • He did not view the media as something to fear, or confront. He didn’t answer every question, but he knew to answer as many as he could, without making the media wait hours or days.

It’s more than messaging

My former colleague and I agree, it wasn’t simply that the sheriff so clearly imparted the details of a complicated and chaotic news event. It was the way he treated the other professionals on the scene: the journalists. Whether it was giving TV crews a nearby (but presumably nonintrusive) place to park their satellite trucks, or unambiguously announcing the time of the next news conference, Robinson made it clear that he didn’t see the media as the enemy. This type of strategy goes a long way in achieving your own media objectives during crisis, and earns you credit against the logistical fumbles that inevitably come later.

Going out on a solid note

Robinson plans to retire in the next month; a fact he acknowledged in response to a direct question from one of the reporters at the scene. But, keeping his priorities straight, the sheriff quickly reminded the reporter that his imminent departure had no bearing on the situation at hand.

One can only hope his replacement shares his designation as a Media Master.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.