Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Week After The Newtown School Tragedy

I have labored over what I want to say and what needs to be said, and how to say it ever since the first news bulletins hit my computer screen.

I've shed my share of tears.  Talked with ICM associates about how it was being handled and continually was astounded by misinformation that was being reported by reputable news organizations and reporters.

I watched with amazement as a CNN reporter referred to the "Bushwacker" rifle. And for hours after the shooting many national media kept reporting there were two, then four handguns in the school and a Bushmaster rifle in the shooter's car in the parking lot.

It was a relatively long time after news broke of the attack before the media reported the shooter had used the assault rifle to kill everyone.

(Just for the record:  I worked 30 years as a reporter, photographer, anchor, editor and news director before I joined the Institute for Crisis Management almost 20-years ago.)

I understand how easy it is to get in a hurry and report inaccurate details.  There is still no excuse for it.

But I decided yesterday evening there was something that really needed to be said.

Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance has done a consistently outstanding job as spokesperson for the joint law enforcement team in Newtown, CT 

For years, since April 1999, my police spokesman idol has been Sgt. Steve Davis of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, who managed the media briefings the afternoon of the Columbine High School Shooting and then dealt with the media for months afterward.

Both men were calm, authoritative and when they spoke you felt you could believe them.

Just a little personal "thing" I have about Police PIO's -- and we do media training for many -- is what I call "police speak."   One of my favorite examples is the officer who responded to a reporter's inquiry saying, "We apprehended two female women subjects."

How many people watching the local news from their homes or offices talk like that?  Why couldn't the officer have simply said, "We arrested two women, today"?

Lt. Vance's only slip (from my"thing") was the occasional use of the word "pursuant."  When was the last time you used that word.

I was  leading a media/spokesperson training for a Midwest city Police Department command team earlier this year and their Public Information Officer did three on-camera exercises and never once
used words like "subject," apprehended, or pursuant.  I told the PIO's chief he was a keeper and then I asked the young man where he learned to speak plainly and so well.  He said when he was promoted to PIO his wife told him if she ever heard him on TV talking in "police speak" he would pay dearly!

I immediately invited her to join our media/spokesperson training team.

I am the father of three grown children and grandfather to two boys.  One of my grandsons died a year ago at age 21.  It was heartbreaking, but expected.  I can't imagine the grief the parents and grandparents of 20 six and seven-year-olds are suffering, but they are in my prayers/

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