Media Relations

What is the Media and How Do We Relate to Them?

It is important for a board to understand how the media views its role. Reporters feel a responsibility to the public to report what they see and hear. What they report influences the public’s attitude toward the schools. If media attend a board meeting and observe that trivial rather than important matters are being discussed, that is what they will present to the public. If they observe dissension among the board, news reports will reflect that dissension.

If reporters hear discussions of significant issues along with constructive and civil debate, there is a better chance for meaningful coverage of school issues. It is also helpful to understand the definition of news: something new, unusual or noteworthy. From a media perspective, this often includes conflict and crisis.

The school board should direct the superintendent to develop a media-relations plan as part of the overall district communications plan. While the media’s job does not necessarily include promoting the school district, a media plan allows the district to be proactive with the news media and often results in more favorable coverage. The absence of a plan often renders the district reactive to the media. And, in the event of a crisis in the district, a well-developed media plan is essential.

What’s in a Media Relations Plan?

The plan should include a clear definition of district spokespersons. In general, a school board should speak to the media only on board or board policy issues. The board president generally serves as the official spokesperson for the board, and individual board members should refer media questions to the spokesperson when possible. The superintendent or designated district staff members should speak to the media on all other district matters. However, when dissension is present, the media will often try to get “both sides of the story.” This means when there is disagreement among board members or among board and staff, reporters will focus on the conflict. Individual members should resist the urge to participate in this kind of coverage, as it can exacerbate the situation and reflect negatively on the district’s image.

The district’s media plan should include strategies for building positive working relationships with media representatives. The media should be kept advised of major school district initiatives, district accomplishments, scheduled activities in the district and other newsworthy issues. Similarly, when crises arise or there is “bad news” to report, the media should be given factual information in a timely and fair manner. The district’s media relations plan should outline steps to be taken in reporting to the media during a crisis.