Two press officers provide tips on getting the most from their peers

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

It seems at least a couple times a week I have to refrain from going to social media to mock a PR pitch I’ve received in my email or to complain about something a public information officer (PIO) has (or hasn’t) done. It could be a pitch well outside my area or that barely makes sense, or a PIO calling me out of the blue, or another email “following up” when I never expressed an interest in whatever the person is following up on.

Sometimes, I don’t refrain, and I let off a bit of steam ranting on my personal Facebook page, albeit trying to remain professional and always anonymizing the situation. Most of the time I delete the email or forget the situation without thinking about it any more, and I direct my energy elsewhere. Every once in a while, I’m able to stop and put myself in the PIO’s position to determine whether they’re doing something for a reason I hadn’t considered. And all the while, I’m very appreciative of the many fantastic PIOs I work with on a regular basis who are professional, helpful and sometimes lifesavers.

I know many other reporters share my experiences, and each of us has different ways of managing our workflow or our frustration. What many journalists may consider or discuss less often, however, is what it’s like to have the shoe on the other foot. PIOs on the other side of the phone or computer also have a job to do, and most take pride in working as studiously and professionally as they can at it. And sometimes, it’s the journalist making their job harder without a good reason.

In that vein, I asked two different PIOs to share their tips in what reporters can do (or keep in mind) to build mutually beneficial relationships with PIOs. Matt Shipman, a PIO at North Carolina State University and blogger at SciLogs Communication Breakdown, offers five key points to keep in mind. Additionally, veteran PIO Rick Borchelt, director of communications and public affairs for the Department of Energy’s science portfolio, offers his five pointers. Their perspectives overlap, as might be expected, but those overlapping points are also often the ones requiring the most emphasis.

Just as we are under pressure to get the story or find a source, they are under pressure to meet their job responsibilities as well. Although those separate goals can definitely clash from time to time, much of the time, those goals may actually overlap. Being mindful of best practices in working with PIOs, aside from being professional, also might save our skin one day when we need someone to speak on the record at the 11th hour.

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