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Handling the media....

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  • Handling the media....

    Hey... I was given this site by a friend - and have been reading with interest. As my handle suggests, I work in news. Just curious - is there anything you feel reporters in your area, from your perspective, don't do a good job covering? If so, how can that be improved?

  • #2
    I think they could do a better job in reporting Line of Duty Deaths. Unless it is something that happened close or was real major, you never hear about it.
    IACOJ Agitator
    Fightin' Da Man Since '78!


    • #3
      NewsReporter....Welcome to the forums!

      Not only am I a firefighter, but I do public fire education and information for my Department as well as freelance writing and reporting.

      Firefighters and reporters can either have a professional relationship or an adversarial one... a case in point...

      There was a new reporter for one of the local newspapers...fresh out of journalism school and eager to make her mark in the world. She strutted into my firehouse as we were doing the housework on the apparatus floor. Instead of introducing herself to the guys and asking if the Chief of Department was in, she said who she was and in a rather snide, defiant tone stated "I am here to dig up the dirt on the Marlborough Fire Department..." Since she set an adversarial tone right up front, we offered her a dustpan and brush and told her that we would appreciate her help in sweeping the apparatus floor!

      A few tips that can help you out...

      Take the time to "learn the lingo" and the terminology. Firefighters have their own "language" that can be confusing to understand at times. We tend to use euphumisms in place of the real descriptions in order to distance ourselves from the horrors we see in the performance of our duties...it's a defense mechanism to help maintain our composure and our sanity.

      Remember that the "grunts" on the line may not have permission to talk to the press. Don't be offended if they refer you to the Incident Commander, the PIO (Public Information Officer) or the Chief. It may be their Department procedure, and more often than not the above personnel will know more about the incident by looking at big picture rather than the firefighters, who were concentrating on performing the assignments given by their company officers via the Incident commander.

      Don't ask what caused the fire while the firefighters are still fighting it. We are not psychic, do not have xray vision and often times need assistance from outside agencies, especially if a fire was of suspicious origin and/or a injury and fatalities were involved.

      Listen to what we tell you when we answer your questions. There are times we cannot release information due to notifications of next of kin situations, patient confidentiality laws, crime scene implications, etc. I have found that some reporters will keep asking the same question, using different wording in order to get the info they feel is necessary to their story. A firefighter is not going to risk his/her career to help you win a Pulitizer.

      Don't show up at the firehouse only when something bad happens. Come in and ask about training, new equipment, fire prevention week and other non emergency things that we do.
      ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
      Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY


      • #4
        Thanks for the welcome!

        I think the station I work for is really good about covering positive stories out of the firehouse. I feel comfortable with the firefighters in our area - we definitely have a good professional relationship. I know to wait with questions (although it's tough with deadlines and demanding bosses) and I have a lot of respect for their dedication to duty.

        I'm interested in the "lingo" comment - what do you mean? Can you give me some examples?

        P.S. - I hope that reporter has since moved on.... to another profession.


        • #5
          As Capt. Gonzo Said, WELCOME.......

          Glad to have you aboard. There are several things that gripe me to no end about SOME (Not All) Reporters. I would offer a few points: 1. Everyone is something to someone, and Everyone cares about someone. That translates to, everywhere possible, identify the individual and the department, AND, identify which unit. As in: "Capt. Bill Jones of Engine Co. 30" in a large metropolitian FD, Or, "Capt. Bill Jones of the West Riverbank Vol. Fire Dept." in a smaller suburban or rural setting. Never refer to "City Firefighters" if you can avoid it, everyone has a unit assignment. Write it as: "Firefighters from Ladder 5" One term that ruffles feathers everywhere is "Emergency Workers", avoid that term at all costs. We are Firefighters, Paramedics, Police Officers, We are NOT Emergency Workers. In the Suburban/Rural areas Always identify the departments that responded on a call as: "The West Ridge VFD was assisted by additional units from GreenTree, Riverbank, and Overthehill Vol. Fire Depts." Last, and most important, GET TO KNOW YOUR FIREFIGHTERS. "Hang out" at the stations where possible, get to the calls as much as possible, build your sources and contacts, and build your credibility. I am in a major metro area, but far enough out to have a local weekly also. I have an excellent relationship with the news folks because we talk to each other when NOTHING is happening. This builds the groundwork for a smoother relationship when SOMETHING is happening, and that makes life easier for all of us. Stay Safe....
          Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
          In memory of
          Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
          Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

          IACOJ Budget Analyst

          I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



          • #6
            You didn't mention if you were print or TV media, but here's some observations just in case you're TV.

            Something I've noticed at fire scenes is that the TV outlets in my area not ownly cooperate with the department, but also each other.

            At a fire serious enough to bring out more than one of the local network affiliates, what will usually happen is the cameramen/reporters (not all the fires warrant a field reporter but are enough to get a cameraman who can do off-camera interviews) will wait until the situation seems to be in hand, and then one of them will ask the IC (and the IC only) if he's ready for an interview. If he is he'll step over, if not he lets them know it'll be a few minutes, and they wait.

            When he's ready, he steps over to where the cameras have gathered. Somebody makes sure that all interested outlets are present to avoid having to ask for more than one block of the IC's time. The cameraman closest to the IC physically usually holds all the mike's just out of camera view, and asks the standard questions. Questions answered, everybody thanks the IC, IC goes back to his fire, cameramen go to edit, everybody's happy.


            • #7
              hwoods - Thanks for the welcome, and for the comments. It's hard to fit the all titles in to very limited story slots (we're talking 30 seconds to get all pertinent info in) - but it's a good goal. I do make "beat calls" regularly, but stopping in occasionally is probably a good idea too. Thanks!

              CollegeBuff - I'm in TV. We do the same in my market. It does seem to work well - and, heaven knows, you guys and gals have much more important things to do on a fire scene than to mess with individual interviews! (And, honestly, most of the photogs I know would rather not spend any more time on a fire/emergency scene than necessary. )


              • #8
                I'm not sure if your station has a helicopter or not but I have a quick comment:

                A Firefighter's funeral is a very solemn event full of many traditions.

                There is no reason a helicopter needs to take aerial photos of the ceremony.

                I attended a LODD funeral yesterday and was very annoyed by the TV helicopter buzzing around making it hard for us to hear the Honor Guard commands, etc. Many of the Firefighters present expressed their disgust at the intrusion.

                Sorry to vent on you.

                Even if your current station doesn't have a helo, it's something you should keep in mind for the future.


                • #9
                  I'll add one more thing that in our area involves your safety at an incident. We are in a small market (Western South Dakota) so we get a lot of new field reporters that do not have a lot of experience.

                  Always park your vehicle out of the way of the vehicles working or responding to the incident. If possible ask if it's OK to park in a specific area. I've lost track of how many times we have come close to having media people and vehicles hit on the highways because they were stopped in an area without regard to other traffic. Last fall we were working an accident on the west bound lanes of the interstate,(Speed limit is 75 MPH)when a local TV reporter stopped in the passing lane of the eastbound lanes to film the accident. As the reporter exited the car, I yelled that they could not park there and was informed by the reporter that I could not stop them from covering the incident. A tractor trailer then just missed them. They got back in the car and left but came back later, I assume after a change of underwear.

                  Also "keep your head on a swivel" when working at an incident. You never know when vehicles, personnel, or other things may unexpectedly place you in danger. If you are asked to stay out of certain areas, do so. It's for your own safety. If you are near a group of firefighters that suddenly start leaving the area with a great sense of urgency, follow them. They are leaving for a reason and you don't want to be there. Basiclly it boils down to the old saying "If I say run, and you say Huh?", you will be talking to yourself.

                  Stay Safe


                  • #10
                    Again, welcome. Just being here shows you have a better understanding and an open mind to covering firefighters.

                    I agree with all of the above but want to mention a couple of things.

                    1. DO NOT CHASE FIRE TRUCKS!! Do not follow the trucks and drive like a fool to try to be there first. I have seen this happen several times and it causes a huge problem for traffic. Not to mention it is dangerous. Get a scanner, listen to it, learn to find the address and use a map.

                    2. Make sure you get names, titles, spelling correct of who you interview. Nothing is more annoying to see yourself on TV or someone you work with, and they spell your name wrong or give you a goofy title.

                    3. You will only get information from the Incident Commander or the Public Information Officer. Do not be offended when you ask someone for information and they do not give it to you as mentioned above.

                    4. Take the time to get the story correctly. If you don't understand something, don't make something up. Ask if you don't understand what something is called or what something means.

                    5. Again, watch where you park. Park completely out of the way of incoming units and out of traffic. One local news station was parked way to close and in the way. The vehicle was quickly towed out of the way. Be aware of where you park to make sure your not blocking a neighbors driveway, fire hydrant or causing a traffic problem. If someone tells you to move your vehicle, please don't argue. They wouldn't tell you to move if you were parked correctly.

                    6. Understand that there are multiple assignments going on at the same time. From the outside it looks like people are running around just for the sake of running around. Believe me, it is organized chaos. Everyone on the fireground has an assignment and are trying to complete it. Please do not get in the way to ask questions until after the intial operations are completed and things calm down a bit.

                    Like mentioned before, try to establish a relationship before something happens. Believe it or not, we do not hate the media. We welcome the media and we hope you try to understand how we operate so you can report the facts correctly.

                    As far as lingo goes....Some departments operate on an alarm box system. For example, one structure fire might go to 2 or three alarms. This means that they had to call extra resources, more than what was recieved on the intial call to control the incident. Someone could say " ...it was a 3 alarm fire.." You already know that it was bigger than a 1 or 2 alarm. Another thing is to "protect exposures." This means we protect the buildings or whatever is close to the original fire so it does spread to the next building. Things around the fire, buildings, cars, trees, anything that could catch fire from the original fire are called "exposures." Other things like "heavy smoke showing..." This means there was a lot of smoke coming from the building.

                    I see that you are in Wisconsin. If your close, you are welcome at my station anytime.

                    Keep your head down and your powder dry.
                    Lt.Jason Knecht
                    Altoona Fire Rescue
                    Altoona, WI
                    Jason Knecht
                    Township Fire Dept., Inc.
                    Eau Claire, WI

                    IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine
                    EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!


                    • #11
                      Hey Dickey - I'll remember that next time I'm in the Eau Claire area. And, we do get *up* there sometimes. Thanks for all you thoughts - the only toughie is #1. I've chased firetrucks since I got my first bike (at about age 6). But, of course, I understand what you're saying.


                      • #12
                        One thing that I would like to add is this:

                        When the IC or PIO gives his answers to your questions (and this is a big pet peeve here), please don't take it out of context. How he/she answers your question IS THE answer. All too often a "conversation" gets so badly edited, it no longer makes sense to those who "know" and in particular to the individual who said it.
                        If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

                        "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

                        "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

                        Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

                        impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

                        IACOJ member: Cheers, Play safe y'all.


                        • #13
                          1.) We don't wear oxygen bottles
                          2.) We don't have "cherry-pickers"

                          other than that, I think everything has been covered....


                          • #14
                            Guys & gals, I have to add something from the medical side of the fire service. Not everyone in an ambulance is a paramedic, so saying "paramedics" sounds impressive but might not be accurate. I suppose it's better than "ambulance driver," which I don't think I've seen in print for quite a while!

                            Welcome to Firehouse, and thank you for your interest!
                            Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong
                            Dennis Miller


                            • #15
                              As several people have said before, get to know the dept. in your area. If they give somebody an award for heroism, outstanding service, or long duty, cover it. If they are having a special function, promotion ceremony, etc. cover it. Obviously there are "busy news days" and "slow news days" and these kind of stories then to fit better on the slow days. If this means handing out your cards to chief officers/PIO's and telling them to call you. Smaller/medium size departments like to get some attention, for good things. of course the caveat on that, is as people has said before, names and titles are very important to us, please make an effort to get them right.
                              I'm the Midnight Skulker, HAHAHAHAHA


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