Monday, March 14, 2011

Rural reporter gives school district some advice about public relations, or public information

Some rural school administrators who already have plenty of responsibilities sometimes spend too much time worrying about the image of their school systems, which, of course, means their own image as well. That can cause problems for rural journalists, and Allison Hollon smelled that coming last month when the school board in Adair County, Kentucky, unveiled a draft public-relations plan.

"I applaud you for making the effort," Hollon, left, wrote in a column, but urged officials not to adopt a policy that school-district employees go through a public-relations person before speaking to the news media. "Employees of any school district already have reservations about speaking to the media," she wrote. "I strongly believe if the school district develops a system where employees have to go through a public relations department before they can speak to me or any other media, it will increase that fear."

Hollon, who has had classes in public relations, also questioned the school superintendent's plan to have "print ready" press releases. "When I receive a press release in 'print ready' form, the first thing I do is come up with a way to change it that makes it unique to our publication," the weekly Adair County Community Voice, Hollon wrote. "Any good journalist worth their salt would do the same thing." The Voice competes with the weekly Adair Progress.

Hollon said a role model exists right there in Columbia: Lindsey Wilson College. "I can call just about anybody at LWC and have an on-the-record conversation. ... Developing a relationship with the media is more than just sending out story tips or press releases. It’s also about developing an open line of communication between the media and janitors, teachers, bus drivers and administrators." (Read more)

Hollon has it better than some. Lisa Gross, the director of the Division of Communications and Community Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education, told us in an e-mail: "I recently talked to an editor at a newspaper in Eastern Kentucky, who told me that the superintendent of the school district he covers had informed him that he’d no longer be receiving press releases or news items from the district, because the paper had reported (truthfully) on some negative issues at a local school. When I talk to school district PR folks, I remind them that their local media outlets are not there to serve as 'cheerleader' for their school systems – media can be helpful, but they should not expect to only see the good things covered and not the 'bad' things." That's good advice that rural journalists need to remember, and on occasion share with school folks.


Anonymous said...

She is a smart women...go girl

elrojo said...

"any good journalist worth their salt" should be "any good journalist worth his or her salt" -- right

Erica said...

Good for you Allison! As a former rural journalist I can attest to how difficult some agencies, especially school boards, can be.

Erica said...

Good for you Allison! As a former rural journalist, I can attest to how difficult some agencies, especially school boards, can be.