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Media relations under fire

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Title:
Media relations under fire journalists experience the lives of firefighters in Media Fire Academy
Portion of title:
Journalists experience the lives of firefighters in Media Fire Academy
Creator:
Matthews, Cynthia M
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English
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ix, 110 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Fire fighters ( lcsh )
Mass media and public opinion ( lcsh )
Empathy ( lcsh )
Empathy ( fast )
Fire fighters ( fast )
Mass media and public opinion ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 108-110).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Communication and Theatre.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Cynthia M. Matthews.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
39719182 ( OCLC )
ocm39719182
Classification:
LD1190.L48 1997m .M37 ( lcc )

Full Text
MEDIA RELATIONS UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS EXPERIENCE THE LIVES
OF FIREFIGHTERS IN MEDIA FIRE ACADEMY
by
Cynthia M. Matthews
B.S., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1990
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Communication and Theatre
19


1997 by Cynthia M. Matthews
All rights reserved.
n


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Cynthia M. Matthews
has been approved
by

Date


Matthews, Cynthia M. (M.A. Communication and Theatre)
Media Relations Under Fire: Journalists Experience the Lives of Firefighters In
Media Fire Academy
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Benita J. Dilley
ABSTRACT
This study examines the relationship between firefighters and journalists and
the role public information officers play in that relationship. The study also
examines a theory that if a public information officer focuses on media relations and
develops innovative ways to draw journalists into a story, making them a part of the
story, journalists will become their own public relations professionals by empathizing
with the story subjects and generating their own story ideas.
The primary research for this study was a week-long Media Fire Academy
for journalists. West Metro Fire Protection Districts firefighters and journalists who
regularly cover the District participated in the Media Fire Academy and pre-Academy
questionnaires. Through the academy experience and questionnaires, I examine
whether or not empathy and involvement on the part of journalists affects the nature,
frequency, and relationship of news coverage of the fire district. Journalists who
regularly covered the West Metro Fire beat at the time of the study were selected and
invited to participate in the Media Fire Academy. Data collection included
IV


questionnaires to determine 1) the perspectives journalists and firefighters have of
each other; and 2) how public relations affects the relationship between firefighters
and journalists. Open discussions and general observations throughout the five-day
academy also provided insights to how the relationship between firefighters and
journalists could be better defined to make for more effective dissemination of news
events. The findings indicated that empathy, defined as intellectual or emotional
identification with another, can serve as a very persuasive means of improving
relationships between firefighters and journalists with the intent to generate credible,
proactive relationships resulting in more positive, frequent, and in-depth news
coverage.
This study is an example of how empathy when used as a persuasive tool can
serve public relations practitioners by helping them establish better media relations
while simultaneously helping journalists develop and cover new stories. If the public
relations industry can embrace the concept of empathetic media relations and apply it
to every day persuasion efforts with journalists, the possibilities of public relations
success through media relations suddenly become endless.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
'BenitaJ. Dilley
v


DEDICATION
This thesis is dedicated to those who continue to remind me of the most
important lesson in life-to believe in myself, my talents, my skills and my abilities.
To my husband, who continues love me unconditionally and teach me by example the
virtues of patience and commitment; to my parents, for their unselfish love and
support; and to my brother and sisters, for continuing to motivate me by asking me,
Hows it coming? and Are you still working on that?
This thesis is also dedicated to Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, who taught me many
valuable lessons about life and how to work effectively with journalists, as well as
believing in me enough to give me my first real break.
But most important, this thesis is dedicated to the firefighters in my family
and around the world who dedicate and risk their lives to help others. I sincerely
hope that the lessons learned through this research will help others effectively
promote the understanding and awareness of firefighting and firefighters to their own
communities. To my firefightersmy husband, my brother, my grandfather, my
cousin, and my friendsyou make me proud. I love you all.
vi


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..............................................1
Purpose of Study.......................................1
Rationale for Study....................................1
Research Statement.....................................2
2. LITERATURE REVIEW.........................................3
Introduction...........................................3
Empathy, Persuasion and Public Relations.........3
Firefighters and Journalists....................14
Conclusion............................................27
3. METHOD...................................................28
Definitions...........................................28
Participants in Media Fire Academy....................28
Pre-Academy Questionnaire.............................33
Ranking Exercise......................................34
4. RESULTS..................................................37
Pre-Academy Questionnaires............................37
Ranking Exercise......................................39
5. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION................................40
Vll


Pre-Academy Questionnaire................................40
Accuracy..........................................43
Photo Opportunities...............................43
Access............................................44
Interference......................................45
Timeliness........................................45
Official Spokesperson.............................46
Background and Related Information................46
Image and Public Relations........................47
Victims and Color Commentary......................47
Media Fire Academy and Open Forum Findings...............48
Fear and Avoidance................................48
Tasks Come First..................................50
Protect...........................................53
Communicate.......................................53
Joe Schmo, Looky Lou, John Doe, and Joe Blow......56
Empathy...........................................58
Conclusion...............................................65
APPENDIX..............................................................67
A. Open Forum Transcription...................................67
vm


B. Journalists Responses Most Important Things to Working with
Firefighters on News Stories......................................89
C. Journalists Responses Words that Come to Mind................90
D. Firefighters Responses Most Important Thins to Working with
Journalists on News Stories.......................................91
E. Firefighters Responses..........................................93
F. Media Academy Evaluations........................................94
G. Informed Consent Forms...........................................97
H. Media Fire Academy Questionnaire (Journalists)...................98
I. Media Fire Academy Questionnaire (Firefighters).................100
J. Media Academy Brochure..........................................102
K. Media Academy Schedule..........................................103
L. Summary of Media Coverage of Media Fire Academy.................104
M. Clippings......................................................105
N. Hypotheses for Ranking Exercise................................106
BIBLIOGRAPHY...............................................................108
IX


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Purpose of Study
This study examines whether or not empathy and involvement on the part of
journalists and firefighters and their relationships with each other can affect the nature
and frequency of news coverage of firefighting, emergency medicine, and rescue
efforts. The purpose of studying empathy as it relates to how reporters cover news
stories is to demonstrate new ways public relations practitioners can engage reporters
and persuade them to cover deliberately pitched news stories designed to promote the
respective organization.
Rationale for Study
Research in both the public relations and journalism fields refers to the
concept of empathy and the role it can play in news coverage. Both journalists and
practitioners believe a journalists ability to cover news effectively is enhanced if he
or she increases his or her understanding, establishes trust with sources, and is able to
put him or herself in the shoes of whomever is being covered. Likewise, both
journalists and practitioners stress the importance of establishing credible and
trustworthy news sources who can be relied upon for story ideas.
The relationship between journalists and public relations professionals has
been demonstrated to be symbiotic. On the one hand, it is complicated by conflicting
1


roles between the public relations practitioners objective to create news and the
journalists objective to cover it. On the other hand, journalists and public relations
professionals work cooperatively for mutually beneficial means of creating and
covering news events. What researchers thus far have failed to do is take their
findings to the next step and develop practical tools for helping the worlds of
journalism and public relations work more effectively together to meet goals that are
of a more mutually productive means.
Research Statement
If a journalist empathizes with a news source, the journalist will begin to
develop and pitch story ideas about the source, more frequently report on the source,
more positively portray the source, and rely upon that source for future assistance
with related stories.
2


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Introduction
In order to understand how the academic literature and research available
might apply to my study, I first examined how empathy and persuasion relate to each
other and the role that relationship can play in public relations. I examined the
relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners to determine how
each depends upon each other, where conflict exists, and where cooperation leads
toward meeting similar goals of accurate, timely, and interesting news reporting. I
also studied the history of firefighting and when it first became a newsworthy
occurrence. Because one can find many similarities between the two civil service
professions of police officers and firefighters and because there was little research
directly relating to the relationship between firefighters and journalists, I also referred
to research focusing on crime reporting and the relationship between police officers
and journalists.
Empathy. Persuasion and Public Relations
Public relations is a profession as old as the Greek civilization credited with
creating it. The Greek society first recognized the importance public discourse plays
in a democratic society. Out of this recognition came a need for people to advocate
issues and persuade others to support those issues. The Greeks are credited with
3


being the first community to identify this need and consequently chose spokespeople
to represent issues and causes for the purpose of influencing a community. The
Greeks named these spokespeople rhetors, but today they can be referred to as public
relations professionals who share similar persuasive goals as their main purposes
(Larson 8).
The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that persuasion is most effective
when it is based on a common ground between a persuader and persuadee.
Similarly, Kenneth Burke, philosopher of communication, argued that persuasion is
most effective when a persuadee is able to relate to or identify with a persuader or his
or her message. Communication and persuasion researcher Charles Larson argued
that people are rarely persuaded unless they participate in the process. Larson said,
In one sense, all persuasion is self-persuasion we are rarely persuaded unless we
participate in the process. (9) Larson believes that persuasion is only possible
through co-creation in which an alliance is formed between a source and a receiver.
One way of obtaining this alliance is through an enthymematic argument. An
enthymeme is a form of argument in which the proof remains unstated by the
persuader but is discovered and then provided by the audience. The role of the
persuader is to identify commonalities that exist between the persuader and the
audience and then use an enthymematic argument to get the audience to persuade
itself. This is known as self-persuasion and is one of the most influential ways of
persuading others. Self-persuasion is the construct Larson describes when he argues
4


that people who participate in a persuasive process are more likely to be moved to
action than those who do not (9).
In the case of this thesis, consider the persuader to be the pubic relations
practitioner and the audience to be the journalist. If these concepts are applied to this
relationship, the public relations person could provide an opportunity for a journalist
to participate in the activities and daily life of the news source with an intent to
persuade the journalist through his/her empathy to cover firefighters in the media. By
providing the opportunity for a journalist to experience what it is like to be a
firefighter, the persuader is providing a means of reaching a common ground through
empathy. This common ground then allows the journalist to find the proof that
covering firefighters is newsworthy. This proof is the enthymematic argument.
Some communication research indicates there are inherent differences
between journalists and public relations professionals that must be acknowledged by
those in both professions before being able to build relationships. Strong
relationships are required before empathy can be used as a persuasive tool. In his
article, The Interaction of Journalists and Scientific Experts: Co-Operation and
Conflict Between Two Cultures, Hans Peters explains that journalists and those with
whom they work when developing stories inherently experience both cooperation and
conflict because of the professional cultures from which the two entities emerge.
Peters uses journalists and scientists, as expert spokespeople, to illustrate the
5


difficulties that can arise when a journalist is looking to report a story and a
spokesperson is trying to create one (31-48).
Other mass communication researchers agree that conflict is inherent in the
relationships between journalists who report the news and public relations people
who try to create it. This conflict sometimes causes journalists and public relations
professionals to find themselves at odds, while at other times causing them to find
themselves cooperating to report a story. This conflict can make working
cooperatively toward a mutually beneficial relationship difficult for journalists and
public relations professionals, but also it underscores the importance empathy and
willing participation can play in the relationship. In a presentation at the 1993
Southwestern Communication Conference, Shirley Ramsey referred to a survey in
which public relations professionals ranked producing information for releases to the
media as the most important job responsibility (3). The often-adversarial
relationships between journalists and public relations practitioners is also clearly
discussed in Andrew Belz, Albert Talbott, and Kenneth Starcks article, Cross
Perceptions: Journalists and Public Relations Practitioners Go Eyeball to Eyeball.
In this article, the authors illustrate how journalists and public relations people think
very differently, which often creates conflict in the relationship (44-45).
Another interesting study demonstrates how public practitioners and
journalists often do not see eye to eye. Linda P. Morton wrote in her article,
Gatekeepers as Target Publics, that public relations practitioners believe their
6


relationships with journalists are much more positive than the journalists believe them
to be or they are in reality. Consider these statistics:
Eighty-nine percent of practitioners see journalists as partners in
disseminating news; only 59% of journalists agree (22).
Ninety-one percent of practitioners believe they help journalists obtain
accurate, complete and timely news, but only 48% of the journalists
agree (22).
The fact that the world of public relations sees itself as a partner with journalists in
disseminating news, while journalists disagree, highlights another source of conflict
in the relationship. An especially interesting finding of Mortons study shows that
78% of journalists feel practitioners clutter the channels of communication with
pseudo-events and phony phrases that confuse public issues (22). This finding
suggests that journalists frequently believe public relations practitioners are creating
events and bogus news conferences to create news. Findings like these support the
notion, then, that public relations practitioners find it not only difficult to persuade
journalists to cover pitched stories because of mistrust of false news but also because
of the adversarial relationship that inherently exists between the worlds of public
relations and news (21-26).
Beyond understanding the dynamics of the relationships between journalists
and practitioners, Morton explains the need to understand how decisions are made
about the newsworthiness of story ideas. Decisions about which stories qualify as
7


newsworthy and which ones do not often are made by people Morton labels
gatekeepers. Morton encourages public relations practitioners to think of newspaper
editors, journalists, and television news producers as targets for messages rather than
simply conduits to a broader audience. While Morton focuses her research findings
in this article on the writing and dissemination of information via news releases, the
arguments she makes can be applied to all aspects of working with the media.
Morton believes that if public relations practitioners see news gatekeepers as opinion
leaders and audiences capable of being influenced themselves, they might be more
successful at persuading gatekeepers to believe in the newsworthiness of the pitch.
Morton reasons that the overall objective of public relations practitioners is to
change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of publics, while understanding it is
easier to change knowledge and attitudes than it is behaviors (23). Morton writes, If
we can increase gatekeepers knowledge of and improve their attitudes about our
organizations, we can influence them (24). This argument also supports my claim
that by bringing journalists into an organization and making them a part of an
organizations culture, practitioners can increase journalists knowledge of and
improve their attitudes about an organization, thereby persuading them to further the
practitioners intended message by helping communicate it to the public.
While my discussion of literature thus far has concentrated on the perspectives
of those who work in the public relations or communication arenas, there also are
researchers who have focused their studies on the perspectives of journalists. One
8


such researcher is Ronald N. Jacobs who examined the world of news workers to
determine how decisions of newsworthiness of story ideas are handled in the
production of television news programs. Jacobs writes in, Producing the News,
Producing the Crisis: Narrativity, Television and News Work, that previous studies
of news institutions have focused on how journalists organize information, interact
with agencies, and develop relationships with official sources to help establish the
interpretation of news stories (375). Jacobs notes that while these studies have yielded
important findings, they have not considered the process of negotiation, persuasion,
and trust and reflexivity as employed by newsworkers when working with sources
and organizing information (375). Jacobs suggests that research needs to be done
on how the routines of everyday life between news journalists and sources affect
newsworkers decisions on story idea newsworthiness (375). Jacobs goes on to
assert that in many cases newsworkers actually produce more news stories once
engaged in a newsworthy event because of the emotional attachment that comes from
being personally involved with the story. Jacobs tells one story of how some
newsworkers he had observed found themselves personally caught up in the live
coverage of a fire. He notes that workers in the production room actually cheered
when the fire helicopters were on the mark in their aerial water drops (390).
Jacobs describes how journalists he had been watching found themselves caught up
in the ritualized and emotional world of media events [and] were less able to separate
the practical requirements of their job from their interests as audience members and
9


private citizens watching the unfolding drama (390). This evidence supports my
theory that if public relations practitioners are able to get journalists close enough to a
story to feel it and empathize with those involved, the odds of persuading them to
cover events as they happen and related stories about the organization in the future
increase. The journalists line separating their role as viewer or reader and reporter is
blurred so that the journalist convinces him or herself that a story is worth covering
because he or she finds it interesting as the end audience.
Some journalists also believe the best way to get stories is to concentrate on
building relationships when there is no news happening. Lindler suggests in, Where
Theres Smoke, Theres News, that one of the best ways for journalists to learn
about forest fires is to write feature stories when fires are cool and nothing else is
happening. As a journalist, Lindler suggests other journalists develop contacts who
can help you when fires get hot (92). This illustrates that journalists also
acknowledge the importance of building relationships with sources and public
relations practitioners.
Elizabeth Giblin offers similar tips and insights for journalists who work the
police beat. In her article Some Tips for Journalists Covering the Police Beat,
Giblin suggests the first and most important thing journalists can do is cultivate
police sources before that celebrity or top official gets arrested. This goes for fire and
ambulance personnel as well (47). Giblin touches on the inherent conflict between
police officers and journalists and recommends journalists get to know the concerns
10


of officers because they are notoriously suspicious of media types (48). Giblin
suggests journalists do what it takes to build relationships with potential sources by
spending time doing ride-alongs, hanging around stations, eating with sources, or
doing whatever else it takes to cultivate and build trust. Giblin is suggesting that
empathy plays a key role in a journalists ability to do his or her job effectively.
The importance empathy plays in the relationships between journalists and
public relations practitioners can be summarized in a statement made by Lou
Ureneck, a newspaper editor for The Portland (Maine) Press Herald. In his article,
Empathy: Path to a Different World, Ureneck writes, the least celebrated quality
of the best journalists may turn out to be a skill that is rarely taught (9). Ureneck
suggests that empathy may even be impossible to learn except through life
experience. Empathy, Ureneck believes, is the ability to step into the shoes of
another person and see the world a different way (19). Ureneck argues that
empathy is a very important part of a complete journalist and also that it a sadly
underdeveloped and uncultivated dimension of most news reports (9). Ureneck
defines empathy for journalists as the ability to open ones mind to the perspectives of
another. Ureneck writes, Before [journalists] can see the world as others see it,
before [journalists] can crawl into their skins to know their aspirations and anxieties,
their daily disappointments and the circle of their horizons, [journalists] need to let
go, at least temporarily, of [their] own closely held views and experiences, a very
difficult task indeed (19). Ureneck also argues that to truly experience empathy,
11


people need to not only enter the lives of other people but also come back with a
story. Ureneck writes that these stories need to be dense with information that is
convincing in its detail and authenticity (19). In order to effectively do this,
Ureneck argues that empathetic journalists are those who go to the places where
people live and work and put in the time and energy of observation and query (19).
Urenecks research supports my idea of creating a Media Fire Academy designed to
not only give journalists an opportunity to experience empathy by entering the lives
of their sources but also to come out of the experience with stories that have complete
information that is convincing in detail and authenticity.
Urenecks insights and advice to journalists strongly support my argument
that empathy can benefit journalists. With this empathy, however, also can come
concerns of which both public relations practitioners and journalists need to be aware.
For public relations practitioners, one such concern might result from over trusting a
journalist with whom a good, empathetic relationship has been established.
Practitioners need to always remember that a journalists first loyalty is to telling the
story, not protecting the source. For journalists, a concern may come in the need to
develop a trusting relationship to obtain information vital to the story but perhaps
which can not be used without jeopardizing the relationship with the source.
Investigative journalist Rosemary Armao suggests in her article, Empathizing With
Targets, How Much is Too Much, that perhaps there is a happy medium for empathy
among journalists and sources. Armao argues, there may be some continuum along
12


which journalists operate, ranging from such complete empathy with a source or
subject that writing a fair story is impossible, up through an opposite end point where
there is such a lack of feeling or care that [a] monster emerges (2). Finding that safe
range in which to work with people is the task at hand for empathetic reporters.
Another concern for empathetic journalists who work closely with public
relations personnel is that they may not be able to remain objective. Dennis Judd and
Daniel Hellinger write in, Persuasion Industry and Media Join in Manipulating
Public, that the entry ... of public relations personnel has eliminated the so-called
objective and unbiased nature of news reporting, (1) and that public relations
personnel use news reporting as a powerful tool to influence public perception.
Nevertheless, Michael B. Salwen, in his study of Hurricane Andrew and news
sources, writes, journalists and their sources in government and industry frequently
form strategic alliances to report the news about social and political issues (826).
The key for journalists using empathy as a persuasive public relations tool is finding
the correct balance between working together to build a mutually beneficial
relationship and remaining true to objectivity. Likewise, it is equally important for
the public relations practitioner to acknowledge the journalists need for developing a
reliable source and remaining faithful to the rules of objectivity and fairness.
Every day, public relations practitioners try to find new and innovative ways
to persuade their audiences to action. One audience of significance is the media. By
recognizing how powerful the media can be in disseminating a message, a public
13


relations person can learn ways to effectively use the media to help communicate a
particular message. One successfully pitched news media story can influence or
persuade thousands, if not millions, of people to immediately accept or challenge a
message. The challenge for the public relations industry is to discover how empathy
can play into media relations and how to use tactics, like empathetic persuasion, to
persuade the media to react positively to news pitches.
Firefighters and Journalists
As long as there have been firefighters, there have been journalists to cover
their activities. Benjamin Harris, credited with founding one of the first colonial
American newspapers, published one of the earliest accounts of a newspaper covering
a fire. In London in 1679, he began an issue of the Domestick Intelligence with this
account of how firefighters quenched a potentially disastrous fire:
Yesterday about one a Clock in the Morning, there broke out a
dreadful Fire in Kent-Street in Southwark, which burnt with great
Violence for three or four hours, till it had consumed between sixteen
and seventeen Houses; it happening in a place where it might have
done abundance more mischief, there being several hundred Loads of
Broom-staves, Birch and Heath just behind where it began, and which
the Fire came very near to: it seems doubtful whether it came
Accidentally or by Design, but if it were done Treacherously, it could
not have been contrived in a more dangerous place. We hear that It
began first on the top of a stack of Heath, and the Woman of the House
doth confidently affirm she had not fire in her house then, not in three
or four days before, but thanks be to God by the care and diligence of
the People in playing the Water-Engines, and blowing up two Houses
by Gunpowder it was happily quenched, and thereby prevented from
doing any further mischief than that aforementioned, which has been
to the great loss and damage of some particular Persons. (Copeland
21)
14


The newspaper account of the fire demonstrates several things. The first is that fire
and firefighters have been considered newsworthy since the beginning of the press.
Soon after this fire article was written Harris began to follow and write about crime
news. This article, then, demonstrates that perhaps the newspaper fire beat
superceded the police beat. In fact, the first crime case Harris wrote followed a fire
and focused on the investigation of a young man accused of burning down a new
prison (Copeland 21). Harris criteria for determining news centered on covering
things people would talk about. Harris idea of informing the public met one of the
perennial criteria of news, news as conversation, conveying information that people
would talk about (Copeland 21). By 1690, Harris had moved to America and
published what is considered to be one of the first three colonial newspapers. Like
his London newspaper, Harris named his colonial newspaper Publick Occurances.
Both Forreien and Domestick (Copeland 11).
Another early American newspaper publisher, Benjamin Franklin, quickly
realized that any good newspaper required a variety of news and information
(Copeland 12). In the October 16,1729 version of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Franklin asked all his correspondents to keep him and his newspaper informed of
every remarkable Accident, Occurrence, &c. fit for public Notice(Copeland 12).
In a sense, this request for story ideas could be considered the beginning of the
modem media relations person who began to pitch stories of interest to the local
15


paper. In this instance, the media was asking for public relations practitioners to help
develop ideas and keep newspaper reporters informed of interesting occurrences.
David A. Copeland, author of Colonial American Newspapers, spent years
researching and analyzing the character and content of colonial newspapers. He
found that stories of death and destruction were popular among newspaper readers
because they played upon human emotion and fallacy (254). Copeland wrties that
colonial newspapers frequently used human tragedy to build an interesting news
item (254). Fires and firefighters were often the featured subjects of many
newspaper journalists who covered people suffering at the hands of tragic events.
Toward the end of the 17th Century, more and more attention was placed on
covering disasters and those who worked them. Author Hiley H. Ward writes in
American Media History, a book about the history of journalism in America, that In
the latter part of the seventeenth century a reader could find local disaster coverage
similar to standard modem fare, such as a fire story (21). Disasters and crises,
including fires, attracted the attentions of early audiences and journalists.
This research indicates covering fires was fairly common for early journalists.
Surprisingly, there also is evidence of public relations efforts for helping fire
departments work with journalists. Although fire departments using public relations
strategies seems relatively modem, an early example of this if found in the early 18th
Century American Colonies. In Fire Engines. Firefighters: The Men, Equipment,
and Machines from Colonial Days to the Present. Paul C. Ditzel describes the
16


devastation of Philadelphias first major fire in April of 1730. Benjamin Franklin
wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette, It is thought that if the People had been provided
with good engines ... the fire might easily have been prevented from spreading, as
there was but little wind. Franklin was advocating that had the community
possessed effective tools for fighting fires, like more modem fire engines, perhaps the
fire would not have been as devastating. Soon after this article appeared in the paper
the town reacted. The following week Franklin wrote in his newspaper, Responding
to this call, the Town Corporation ordered four hundred buckets, twenty-five hooks,
and three new fire engines (24), proof that persuasion via media can effect change.
More recently, a 20 Century documentary produced by the Arts and
Entertainment Network for The History Channel, The Fire Engine-Workhorse of the
Inferno, highlights the history of firefighters and journalists attraction to them.
Narrator Roger Mudd said, Press barons who were looking for fresh and exciting
stories recognized the firefighters public appeal. In an effort to attract new readers
they began covering fires and the men who fought them. The press lords found a
gold mine of heroes in Americas fire departments. America fell in love with the
fireman. The documentary went on to tell how many photographs of early major
American fires were so popular they were routinely used on postcards of the 1800s
and ultimately became as popular as baseball trading cards are today.
Beyond the American newspaper, firefighters quickly made their way into the
movies. With the invention of the motion picture camera, audiences hungry for news
17


soon found they could watch exciting events as they happened, rather than simply
reading about them in the newspaper after the fact. Thomas Edison had invented the
moving picture and soon found he could make a good living producing short
documentaries for storefront theaters and nickelodeons to show. According to The
History Channels documentary, fire was always a popular subject. Edison did not
believe people had the patience to sit through a film longer than one minute, but his
cameraperson, William S. Porter, disagreed. Porter shot an eight-minute fictional
film about a fire and rescue and the community had its first hit movie. Theaters
across the world were soon showing The Life of a Fireman. Film critics of the time
believed the film was a hit because the American public had been prepared for such a
show by years of exciting newspaper accounts of brave firefighters.
American newsreels also frequently showed fires and firefighters, finding
excitement and drama along the way. Fires and firefighters were shown through
catastrophes and disasters which provided newsreel cameramen with their most
exciting and popular subject matter (Fielding 23). Disasters, both natural and man-
made, were standard newsreel fare (Fielding 257). Newsreels focusing on fires
showed that, Nothing has more journalistic or pictorial excitement than a dramatic
crisis unfolding before a viewers eyes (Fielding 257). Perhaps these early American
newsreels set the stage for modem television news attraction to capturing devastation
and fires on film.
18


Modem televisions attraction to the excitement of fires and firefighting is
demonstrated in a television show created by Grove Television in 1993 dedicated to
the real-life exploits of Americas firefighters. In Fighting Fire With Firefighters,
Steve McClellan writes about the upcoming debut of a television show dedicated to
firefighters. McClellan writes, What Fox has done for cops with COPS. Grove
Television Network Enterprises hopes to do for firefighters with FIREFIGHTERS, a
new first-run reality series GTE is pitching to stations for a January 1993 premiere
(16). Carl Dietz, senior vice president of GTE, was quoted in the story saying, Fire
fascinates people. But in addition to that, we want to tell the stories of some of the
1.5 million firefighters who often put their lives on the line. They are really unsung
heroes. And everybody likes a hero (16). Where there is devastation, there is almost
assuredly to be heroes. This combination of tragedy and human drama is what has
made, and continues to make, these events worthy of news coverage.
Although the relationships between firefighters and journalists appear
historically to be positive and healthy, reality and contemporary research argues
otherwise. Because there is virtually no research available specifically focusing on the
relationship between firefighters and journalists, a comparison of the next closest civil
servant, police officers, can be made. These researchers, like Patricia Kelly in Police
and Media, have found a strong mutual distrust between police officers and
journalists (66). Jennifer Frank, a graduate student at Michigan State University,
discovered similar findings after spending months analyzing the relationships
19


between the journalists and police officers in Detroit for her thesis, The Relationship
Between Detroit Newspaper Journalists and the Detroit Police Public Information
Unit: An Observation and Content Analysis. Frank found that conflict was inherent
in the relationship between cops and journalists and that it had been so for the vast
majority of the crime reporting history in America. She found that journalists
frequently depended on sources within the organization being covered to provide
facts about a case. Frank writes, much of a journalists method depends on the
relationship and level of cooperation between the law enforcement organization and
his or her media agency (1). With police agencies, the relationship between police
officers and reporters often is strained and information filtered through a public
information officer.
Other researchers agree that police officers and journalists traditionally have
experienced very difficult relationships. Kimberly A. Crawford, in her article,
News Media Participation in Law Enforcement Activities, says the conflict
between police officers and journalists is based in the differing goals of each. She
writes that the relationship between law enforcement and the news media has been
fraught with conflict (28). Law enforcement agencies, with their efforts for safely
and effectively investigating and prosecuting people in violation of criminal laws,
often have sought to preclude the news media from interfering in their endeavors. On
the other hand, the news media, performing the valuable function of keeping the
public informed, has waived the first amendment banner claiming a newsgathering
20


privilege (28). It seems, then, that the conflict found in the police/joumalist
relationships is due to the perceived compromising of the legal and judicial processes.
A similar comparison can be made to the fire/joumalist relationship in that
firefighters, like police investigators, often are trying to determine the cause of a fire
and whether or not there was criminal intent, as well as preserving the integrity of the
investigation to ensure solid prosecution down the line. The more obvious
comparison of fire reporting to crime reporting is in the nature of the news stories that
evolve from either type of incident. In both police and fire stories there is a similar
formula; each includes an accident or intentional crime, a perpetrator, a victim, and a
police or fire organization trying to make sense of the situation.
Taking this idea to the relationship between public relations practitioners and
reporters, researchers Andrew Belz, Albert Talbott, and Kenneth Starck argue that
despite the conflicts present in the relationships between journalists and sources, they
rely upon each other to meet their communication objectives. In their article, Using
Role Theory to Study Cross Perceptions of Journalists and Public Relations
Practitioners, Belz, Talbott, and Stark write, to some extent, public relations
practitioners and journalists are dependent upon each other (125). This presents a
quagmire for public relations professionals who realize journalists are somewhat
dependent upon them for story ideas, yet journalists do not want to admit this
dependency for fear of sacrificing credibility and objectivity. Also journalists
acknowledge that the relationship between them and their sources needs nurturing,
21


their editors frequently do not share that concept and dedicate very little of their time
to such relationships. According to Madelyn Ross in Heres What Editors Really Do
All Day, editors indicate they only spend about 11% of their time dealing with
public relations pitches (5).
Elizabeth Giblin offers tips for journalists who cover the police beat and
suggests they concentrate on improving their relationships with sources to develop
better story ideas. In her article, Some Tips for Journalists Covering the Police
Beat, Giblin suggests there are many things journalists can do to bring the best of
that compelling human drama to their stories (46). Many of Giblins suggestions
also can be applied to covering firefighters since frequently police and firefighters
work the same events (46). First Giblin argues that journalists should cultivate
sources before that celebrity or top official gets arrested (46). Giblin also suggests
journalists visit with officers and get to know their concerns. Giblin writes, the
more you can do to show youre trustworthy, likable, and scrupulous, the more you
can help turn around old deeply ingrained attitudes about hard-nosed journalists
(46). Giblin argues, as an added bonus, by hanging around the station, you can often
overhear critical details about stories (46). This statement is applicable to both police
officers and firefighters. By hanging around the station journalists can overhear not
only critical details about a crime but also details about the nature of the fire or rescue
situation. These details provide reporters the human drama to add to the facts about
the incident. It is this type of detail that makes news stories more interesting and
22


entertaining for readers or viewers. This statement also, though, contradicts Giblins
earlier comments stressing the importance of building trust. By suggesting
journalists can hang around a station to build trust and overhear sensitive information
by doing so, Giblin also is giving police officers and firefighters reasons to be
suspicious of journalists intentions. Giblin encourages journalists to seek out family
members and victims to add drama to the story and to meet with as many people at
the scene as you can to get the full story or even that one great colorful quote (47).
Giblin also suggests journalists participate in ride-alongs with officers and that the
experiences themselves can often make dramatic stories in themselves (47).
Giblins suggestion to lessen the gap between the journalist and police officer by
spending time together supports my theory of providing opportunities for empathy as
it relates to news stories.
In his article, Where Theres Smoke, Theres News, Bert Lindler offers
similar tips to help journalists who specifically cover forest fires. Lindler suggests
that writing features about fires when they are cool will help build contacts that will
be useful during emergencies (91). Lindler then provides the reader with a brief
translation of terms commonly used by firefighters. Lindlers overall argument
centers around encouraging journalists to build relationships with firefighters during
non-emergency situations so that when an emergency does occur, the journalist will
benefit from that relationship (91).
23


Similarly, news photographer Bruce Reeves suggests in On Getting Too
Close to the Subject that one of the first things you learn in this wonderful chaos we
call photojournalism is to get close to your subject (24). Debra Gersh Hernandez
supports this claim in a report entitled, Covering Disasters: Report Defines Role of
Media. In the report, Hernandez states, accurate and timely information is essential
during a disaster, and better relations should be established between the media and
scientific and disaster organizations (13). Hernandez suggests the media have a duty
to report reliable information to the public and the rescue organization has a duty to
ensure the information it is providing the media is accurate and truthful (13).
The Hernandez Report criticizes the media for being more interested in
exploiting human misery than in preventing it. Hernandez writes, We are not helped
by how the priorities are perceived in the eyes of the media: human misery is far more
news worthy than a population that has been made safe and sound, an earthquake or
flood that does little or no damage is not news (14). This gets to the heart of why
public relations practitioners now play such a strong role in police, fire and rescue
organizations. Organizations hope that by dedicating personnel and efforts toward
working with journalists that stories other than death and destruction will make it to
the front page. The report makes several recommendations including:
1. Scientific and disaster mitigation organizations should seek to develop
working relationships with the media based on mutual trust and the
recognition of differing characteristics, goals and needs. Regular,
24


effective communication among these disparate groups, before, during,
and after disaster events can greatly enhance those relationships.
2. Disaster mitigation organizations should seek to provide reliable
information to the media, as early as possible, in a concise and readily
understandable form, and likened, where possible, to newsworthy
events.
3. Disaster mitigation organizations should seek to identify and
communicate specific themes and messages, both through the mass
media and in other alternative forms of communication.
4. Media and disaster mitigation organizations should take advantage of
opportunities to work together and to provide relevant training for
journalists and field personnel to enhance both disaster preparedness,
mitigation and relief efforts, and the timeliness, quality and accuracy
of reporting about natural disasters.
5. Media organizations are encouraged to evaluate their reporting about
natural hazards and disaster preparedness and, where appropriate, to
work with disaster mitigation organizations to improve the quality,
accuracy and thoroughness of such reporting. (14)
Whether it be police officers, rescue workers, or firefighters, having a positive
relationship is instrumental for journalists and their sources. Mutually beneficial
25


relationships can help combat the inherent negativities and distrust present in such
relationships.
The conflict between journalists and police officers/firefighters can be
extended to the relationship between public relations practitioners and reporters. In
an article in the Canadian Journal of Communication, the conflict between journalists
and public information specialists is discussed. The relationship between journalists
and public relations practitioners is at once cooperative and fraught with conflict and
implies a double negotiation; over the exchange of resources, and over the rules
regulating this exchange (47). This is the conflict that makes serving as the public
relations person for a police or fire agency difficult. Maintaining the integrity of the
incident and association while providing public information is the challenge.
Just as several of the researchers cited thus far have suggested that journalists
need to generate relationships with sources, similarly do public relations practitioners
need to concentrate on building relationships with journalists. In her thesis entitled,
The Impact of Public Information Specialists from Institutions of Higher Education
on Radio News, Janet Kacsckos suggests that personal relationships with journalists
are instrumental to getting news covered by the media. Kacskos recommends that
public relations professionals focus their efforts on the frequency of their contact with
journalists rather than the personal relationship with journalists (1993).
26


Conclusion
The literature reviewed for this thesis examines how empathy, persuasion and
public relations relate to each other in generating news coverage. Researchers have
found evidence to support the idea that persuasion is an effective means of
communicating with journalists. Researchers also have found inherent differences
and conflicts between the roles of journalists, police officers, and firefighters which
often strain working relationships. The dynamics of these relationships need to be
examined so that reporters, public information officers, and firefighters can enhance
their relationships. These enhanced relationships will make for an increased
understanding of newsworthiness and more accurate and interesting reporting.
27


CHAPTER 3
METHOD
Data for this study were collected via questionnaires, general observations of
the Media Fire Academy, and a group discussion between firefighters and journalists.
Definitions
For the purposes of this thesis, the term journalists shall refer to newspaper,
television, or radio reporters and television or newspaper photojoumalists. The
phrases public information officer, media relations professional, and public relations
practitioner are synonymous and used interchangeably.
Participants in Media Fire Academy
In cooperation with the West Metro Fire Protection District in Jefferson
County, Colorado, I invited journalists to participate in a five-day Media Fire
Academy designed to help journalists empathize with firefighters. West Metro is a
suburban career fire department encompassing 100 square miles and a population of
221,000 people. The department is the largest special district and fourth largest fire
district in Colorado. With 286 paid career firefighters, the department had a desire to
enhance its media relationships and image in the community via mass communication
efforts. At the time of this study the department had one civilian public information
coordinator.
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Journalists participating in this study were targeted according to the news
organizations they represented that regularly covered the West Metro Fire Protection
District, the southern urban portion of unincorporated Jefferson County, the City of
Lakewood, and the Town of Morrison. Each news organization was sent a brochure
promoting the event (Appendix J) and a personal letter inviting them to participate.
The promotional brochure also was sent to all major news organizations in Denver,
including The Rocky Mountain News. The Denver Post. The Jefferson Sentinel. The
Jefferson Transcript. The Columbine Community Courier. KOA Radio, and Channels
2, 4, 7, and 9.
The purpose of the Media Fire Academy was to build the fire departments
relationship with local media in an effort to positively impact the nature and
frequency of news stories and coverage in the future and to serve as the primary
research tool for this study. I believed news coverage could be enhanced and the
departments objective of improving relationships with reporters accomplished by
increasing the medias understanding of the nature of fire and fire incidents, strategies
and tactics for firefighting, and the physical demands of firefighting, and empathizing
with firefighters.
I believed that participation in the Media Fire Academy would help
journalists intellectually, emotionally, and physically understand the nature of
firefighting by experiencing what firefighters do at a fire scene and the daily
contributions they make in the community. Training chiefs from the West Metro Fire
29


Protection District assisted me in designing an academy that would demonstrate the
actual tasks performed by firefighters on a daily basis.
Literature and personal experience has indicated that relationships between
firefighters and journalists have been stress filled and relatively unfulfilling for both
entities. I believed that empathy on the part of both journalists and firefighters could
help alleviate such tensions and generate more fulfilling cooperation at emergency
scenes. This enhanced understanding and empathy for each other would in turn
result in more frequent, more positive, more proactive, and more in-depth media
coverage of firefighters and the fire department.
As the literatures indicates, the closer a journalist is to a story or source, the
more empathetic toward the story or source the journalist will become. This empathy
then will have an emotional effect upon the journalist, which can help the journalist
begin to identify future story ideas. The journalist, in a sense, then becomes his or
her own public relations person as story ideas are self-pitched and developed as
opposed to simply received through a news release or pitch by a public relations
professional.
The Phoenix Fire Department in Arizona has invited journalists to join
firefighters and attend similar recruit academies, but the West Metro Media Fire
Academy is the first of its kind designed for and limited to journalists only. Five
journalists enrolled in the academy and represented both television and print news
organizations. From the daily news media, one journalist each from The Denver Post
30


and KCNC Channel 4 participated. Two print photographers and one journalist from
a weekly newspaper also participated.
During the Media Fire Academy, journalists participated in a condensed
version of the departments six-week Recruit Academy for newly hired firefighters.
A schedule of activities is included in Appendix K. Each of the five eight-hour days
began with journalists standing in military formation. Journalists and their respective
news organizations committed to attending the entire academy. This commitment
was important to me for the success of my research. I believed journalists needed to
experience the long, difficult days resulting in physical and emotional exhaustion just
as firefighters frequently do. This was an enormous commitment from participating
organizations particularly the television station that prepared a week-long series of
fire and emergency stories prior to the academy and arranged for live reports each
morning from the academy, all during May sweeps.
The first half of each day generally consisted of classroom instruction while
the afternoons were reserved for practical field exercises. Journalists were issued
complete sets of bunker gear on the first day and spent a day and a half not only
experiencing the physical weight of the additional 65-pounds of gear, but also
learning to breathe through self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Bunker gear
is the personal protective equipment worn by firefighters. It includes boots, fire
protective pants, jackets, gloves, a hood, a mask, a helmet, and the SCBA equipment.
The physical experience of adorning the gear and experiencing the heat, flames and
31


smoke was the beginning of empathy training for journalists. The classroom
experiences were intended to help journalists intellectually empathize with
firefighters. The information presented during the classroom sessions not only helped
journalists empathize and better understand firefighting, but also assisted them with
producing more accurate and interesting news stories.
Throughout the Media Fire Academy journalists learned:
How to navigate a fire ground (A fire ground is the secure area
surrounding a fire scene in which fire officials work.)
How to actively seek information sources at a fire scene
How fire behaves and fire science
How arson investigators determine the cause and origin of fire
How to safely extricate victims
The history of firefighting
Fire vocabulary
The classroom sessions helped prepare journalists for the physical and
practical exercises in the field. Many hands-on assignments were developed so
journalists could experience the physical nature of firefighting tasks. Among those
assignments, journalists participated in technical rescue activities by repelling from a
five-story building and extricating victims from crushed automobiles. Journalists
were required to crawl in complete bunker gear through an enclosed maze filled with
smoke to experience what firefighters feel when they crawl through a dark, hot,
32


smoke-filled building looking for victims. Journalists also participated in an evening
liquid petroleum gas (LPG) bum that required them to work together as a team on a
hose line to correctly spray water at a burning gas flame allowing them to get close
enough to the flame to turn it off without getting burned. Journalists experienced a
day of live fire exercises in which they entered a specially designed cement building
equipped for safely training firefighters with real fire. Inside the bum building,
journalists performed search and rescue techniques while extinguishing a real fire.
On the final day of the academy, journalists and took part in a two-hour
debriefing session and discussion on how firefighters and journalists could work
together more effectively and improve relations (Appendix A). No theory or
hypothesis was associated with this discussion that was aimed at simply sharing and
discussing the experiences of the week.
Pre-Academy Questionnaire
Prior to participating in the Media Fire Academy, I asked firefighters and
journalists to complete a questionnaire designed to gain insights into their attitudes
toward each other and their working relationships at a fire or other emergency scene.
The questionnaires included a ranking exercise designed to identify the issues
firefighters and journalists each consider most important to covering fire and
emergency news stories.
In order to determine the feelings firefighters and journalists have for each
other, both groups were asked to identify the first two or three words that come to
33


mind when they think of each other. There was no definition, further explanation, or
specific situation provided. The participants initial reactions were key to
determining how firefighters and journalists respond to each other on a first-
encounter emergency scene and why their relationships, as the literature suggests,
tend to be full of conflict.
Firefighters also were asked to list the two or three things they feel are most
important to working with the media. By asking for the words that immediately come
to mind, I was intending to obtain an immediate response from firefighters on their
opinions of journalists, and vice versa.
Ranking Exercise
Firefighters and journalists also were asked to prioritize ten issues for dealing
with each other at a fire or emergency scene (one being most important; ten being
least important). Issues ranked one through three were considered Highly Important;
issues ranked four through seven were considered Moderately Important; and issues
ranked eight through ten were considered Unimportant. The ten issues included
statements reflecting the following broad subject areas: 1) Accuracy; 2) Photo
Opportunities; 3) Timeliness; 4) Color; 5) Official Spokesperson; 6) Background &
Related Information; 7) Access; 8) Image and Public Relations; 9) Interference; and
10) Victims/Color Commentary.
Prior to administering the questionnaire, I developed a hypothesis for each
subject area for both the firefighters and journalists responses. (Appendix N) My
34


hypotheses are largely based on my personal experiences working with reporters and
from the literature I reviewed for this study. Responses from both groups were
compared to determine where the groups agreed and disagreed on the importance of
various issues at a fire or emergency scene. My hypotheses follow:
1. ACCURACY
Hi Firefighters will rank accuracy highly important.
H2 Journalists will rank accuracy highly important.
2. PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES
H3 Firefighters will rank photo opportunities unimportant.
H4 Journalists will rank the importance of having photo
opportunities highly important.
3. TIMELINESS
H5 Firefighters will rank getting information out to the public in a timely
manner highly important.
H6 Journalists will rank getting facts about an emergency incident in a
timely manner moderately important.
4. COLOR COMMENTARY
H7 Firefighters will rank talking to witnesses unimportant.
Hg Journalists will rank the importance of getting color from witnesses,
bystanders, and neighbors highly important.
35


5. OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON
H9 Firefighters will rank the importance of talking to the public
information officer (PIO) as highly important.
H10 Journalists will rank the importance of talking to a PIO unimportant.
6. BACKGROUND & RELATED INFORMATION
Hi 1 Firefighters will rank background information unimportant.
H12 Journalists will rank background information moderately important.
7. ACCESS
H13 Firefighters will rank journalist access to a fire scene unimportant.
H14 Journalists will rank journalist access to a fire scene highly important.
8. IMAGE / PUBLIC RELATIONS
H15 Firefighters will rank having a story that reflects positively on them
and the department highly important.
Hi6 Journalists will rank writing a story highlighting the department
unimportant.
9. INTERFERENCE
Hi7 Firefighters will rank journalist access to a fire scene unimportant.
His Journalists will rank journalist access to a fire scene highly important.
10. VICTIMS/COLOR COMMENTARY
H19 Firefighters will be indifferent to having journalists talk to victims.
H20 Journalists will rank talking to the victims highly important.
36


CHAPTER 4
RESULTS
Pre-Academy Questionnaire
Thirty-eight firefighters completed the questionnaire. Of those 38 responses,
all but five indicated firefighters had negative feelings toward journalists; two had
positive feelings; and three had neither positive nor negative feelings. Firefighters
used words or phrases like, nothing good, biased, sensational, dishonest,
pushy, ruthless and conniving, crafty, and opportunistic.
In addition, several firefighters indicated they would do whatever they could
to avoid an encounter with a journalist. These firefighters used phrases like, Uh oh,
Go away, Stay away, or Dont talk to them. Several comments suggested
that many firefighters are afraid of being misquoted or having something they have
said taken out of context. Firefighters used phrases like, going to twist the issues,
watch what you say and how you say it nothing is off the record, never get the
story correct, speak carefully, or pain in the ass, indicating they are very
concerned with how they come across in the media and that the information they
provide be portrayed accurately. (Appendix E)
In contrast, when journalists were asked to state the first two or three words
that come to mind when they think of firefighters, 100% of the responses had positive
37


connotations. Journalists used words like strong, brave, compassionate, and
dedicated to describe firefighters. (Appendix C)
Firefighters and journalists also were asked to list the two or three issues they
feel are most important to working with the media. The firefighters comments can
be categorized into the following broad subject areas with the frequency of response
indicated in parentheses.
Honesty/Truthfulness (11)
Accuracy (11)
Cooperation (6)
Positive Exposure (6)
Control of Information/Access (6)
Appearance (5)
PIO (Public Information Officer) (5)
Caution (2)
Brevity (2)
When journalists identified the two or three most important things about
working with firefighters, they suggested cooperation, communication, mutual
respect, access, accuracy and safety, urgency, and staying out of each others way as
the most important factors. Interestingly, journalists listed the same factors as
firefighters had identified for working effectively with journalists. (Appendix B)
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TABLE 1
RANKING EXERCISE RESULTS
FIREFIGHTER: RANK SUBJECT: RANK REPORTER:
The reporter uses accurate and truthful facts in the story. 1 ACCURACY 1 You are able to get accurate and truthful facts.
The reporter gets good photos and visuals of the event for the story. 4 PHOTO OPPS 2 You have access to good photo/visual opportunities.
The reporter gets the news out in a timely manner. 6 TIMELINESS 3 You are able to get the facts in timely manner (in other words you can meet your deadline.)
The reporter interviews witnesses/neighbors. 8 COLOR 5 You are able to find witnesses who will give you an interview.
The reporter interviews the appropriate fire department spokesperson. 3 OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON 8 You can get access to an official spokesperson from the fire department
The reporter interviews firefighters on the scene. 7 BACK-GROUND & RELATED INFO 9 You can get relevant background information or historic/related information
The reporter has access to the fire scene. 9 ACCESS 7 You can get to firefighters or rescue personnel to ask them questions
The reporter writes a news story that reflects positively on the department. 5 IMAGE /PR 9 You can produce a story highlighting the fire department and EMS officials involved
The reporter doesnt interfere with the firefighting process 2 INTERFERENCE 4 You can get close enough to the fire or other event to show events as they unfold.
The reporter interviews the victim, family and/or friends 10 VICTIMS/COLOR 6 You can get interviews with victim, family or friends
39


CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Pre-Academv Questionnaire
Firefighters and journalists completed a Pre-Academy Questionnaire prior to
participating in the Media Fire Academy. The questionnaire was used to gain insights
into their attitudes toward each other and their working relationships at a fire or other
emergency scene.
Firefighters generally indicated they are concerned with accuracy,
truthfulness, and appearance in the media. They feel it is important for journalists to
receive accurate and timely information to help boost the image of the fire department
by making them appear more professional. Interestingly, several firefighters
recognize that cooperation with the media is necessary in order to gain positive
exposure for the department in news coverage.
A few interesting thoughts were communicated in the margins of six
questionnaires. Those comments refer to the safety of reporters covering a scene and
to the fire department controlling information and access. Comments such as,
Safety keep the media clear of the scene media in a safe area, and keep the
media out of the fire ground scene until after overhaul, indicate that firefighters are
concerned with journalists safety. The safety of those journalists covering
emergency scenes also was discussed thoroughly during the Media Fire Academy
40


joumalist/firefighter group discussion. The term Overhaul refers to the stage in
firefighting where firefighters search the scene for hidden fire and try to determine a
possible origin and cause. It is often the most dangerous time for firefighters because
of the unknown threats of hidden fire. Also during overhaul firefighters often are
tempted to let their guards down which frequently causes injuries.
Other comments indicate firefighters want to limit journalists access to the
fire scene to protect the departments image, prevent interference in the firefighting
process, and preserve the integrity of potential crime scenes. Comments like, Keep
them at the command post and out of our way, Tell the media only basic
information, Keep the media out of the fire ground scene until after overhaul, and
Be a part of the professional scene not interfering with, support the fact that
firefighters consider their task of dealing with the emergency scene to be of utmost
importance and that anything else, including talking to journalists, is secondary.
Firefighters also stressed the importance of only having one designated person, the
public information officer (PIO), provide information to the media.
Several comments from firefighters stress the importance of having a PIO
present and available on a fire ground or at an emergency scene to ensure accurate
and consistent release of information. Firefighters said, Tell the media only basic
information, Do not say anything to media unless told to by the person in charge or
PIO, Direct them to the person in charge or PIO, and Have only one designated
person talk to the media that way all information is consistent. One firefighter
41


acknowledged in the margins of the questionnaire that media ought to talk to the
appropriate person on scene. The firefighter went on to suggest that the
appropriate person does not necessarily have to be the PIO but may often be the
line personnel, so long as an information person has been identified.
The concepts of consistency and truthfulness also emerged in the margins of a
firefighters survey near the questions involving the release of information. One
firefighter commented in the margins of the questionnaire, The departments actions
should speak for themselves. It must be remembered that every fire department is
doing the best they can in a given situation. Positive criticism can work. Negative
criticism breeds mistrust and strained working relations. Only one comment went so
far as to indicate the most important thing to working with the media was to cover
up what we have done wrong, and protect the image of the department. The
majority of firefighters believed the media could be helpful in portraying a positive
image in the community but only through cooperation with reporters could this be
accomplished.
The Ranking Exercise on the questionnaire was used to prioritize those issues
related to news coverage that firefighters and journalists consider most important.
The discussion of those findings centers around ten different issues: 1) Accuracy; 2)
Photo Opportunities; 3) Timeliness; 4) Color; 5) Official Spokesperson; 6)
Background and related information; 7) Access; 8) Image/Public Relations; 9)
Interference; and 10) Victims.
42


Accuracy
I define accuracy as complete, accurate and truthful information. Both
firefighters and journalists ranked accuracy as the most important issue demonstrating
that correct information about an incident is significant. I assumed firefighters would
rank accuracy important because correct information would be critical for
maintaining a positive image for the departments and the firefighters credibility.
Journalists require accuracy so they can promote themselves as reliable sources of
information for their readers or viewers who expect nothing less than complete and
accurate information.
Photo Opportunities
Photo Opportunities are instances in which photojoumalists are able to capture
the emotion of an event on film. In working with police, fire, and rescue agencies
that take pride in limiting media access to a scene, I thought photo opportunities
would have been ranked unimportant to firefighters and very important to reporters.
Because of the conflict inherent in these relationships I would have expected
firefighters to rank photo opportunities unimportant because they require close access
to a scene. Close access is believed by firefighters to create disturbances or hinder
emergency efforts. Surprisingly, firefighters ranked photo opportunities and good
visuals as moderately important. As a public relations professional with ten years
experience, I have seen that a news story is only as good as the pictures it creates.
Without strong photo opportunities journalists are unable to capture the emotion of an
43


event and are less likely to cover it. Journalists supported my hypothesis by ranking
photo opportunities as the second most important issue.
Access
For the purpose of this research, I define access as the ability to get oneself
within the perimeter of a fire scene as established by tape and or emergency vehicles.
Access to a scene was surprisingly ranked unimportant by firefighters and journalists.
I expected firefighters to rank journalist access to a fire scene as unimportant because
of comments in their questionnaires indicating they feel strongly about media access
being disruptive to and interfering with the firefighting process. However, this finding
is somewhat contradictory to the notion that firefighters ranked good photos of an
event moderately important. Without access to a scene journalists are more limited in
the types of photos they can obtain. For example, without access to the scene of the
Oklahoma City bombing scene, it would have been difficult for the photographer to
capture the now famous photo of the firefighter carrying a dead baby out of the
rubble.
Journalists ranked access moderately important, seventh. In further discussion
with journalists during the Media Fire Academy debriefing session it was explained
that journalists prefer access but do not find it necessary. With modem equipment,
such as telephoto lenses and microphones, journalists are able to capture a scene even
from a great distance. I incorrectly assumed journalists would have needed direct
access to an emergency scene to capture a story in both words and images. The
44


interesting finding that comes from this information is that although journalists do not
need direct access to report a story, direct access can help make for a stronger story
by being closer to the heart of the incident and capturing emotion as the event
unfolds.
Interference
I define interference as the process of obstructing or creating difficulty for
firefighters to complete their tasks during a firefighting or rescue incident.
Firefighters believe a journalist not interfering with the firefighting process is a very
important issue ranking it second. I assumed from my previous experience working
with reporters that firefighters would see the media as an obstruction at a scene.
Journalists ranked getting close enough to the fire or to her event to show events as
they unfold moderately important.
Timeliness
I define timeliness as the ability to provide information in a reasonable
amount of time with the intent of meeting media deadlines and public expectations. I
expected firefighters and journalists to rank getting information quickly as highly
important. Firefighters ranked timely information as moderately important, sixth,
while journalists ranked it highly important, third. Both groups seemed to recognize
and appreciate the need to get information out in a timely manner to meet media
deadlines and public expectations.
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Official Spokesperson
The issue of who provides information to the media is a touchy one for
firefighters and reporters. An official spokesperson is the individual identified at a
scene to provide information to the media and public. Typically the official
spokesperson at a fire scene is a public information officer (PIO) or a fire chief.
Firefighters ranked the importance of talking to the public information officer third,
while journalists ranked it eighth. I believe the inherent conflict in the relationship
between firefighters and journalists is the reason firefighters said they prefer not want
to speak with journalists but instead direct them to a PIO whose job it is to deal with
the media. I also believe that journalists want to speak with the people closest to the
event and in most cases this is the firefighter or other emergency personnel, not the
PIO. Journalists tend to rely upon PIOs for background information, statistics, and
facts. They prefer to rely upon those closest to the scene firefighters and rescue
workers to provide the drama, colorful quotes, and soundbites.
Background and Related Information
Firefighters and journalists ranked background information as unimportant.
While expecting firefighters to neglect the importance of background information, I
did not expect journalists to rank it as unimportant as they did. I believed journalists
would have wanted background information, particularly print journalists, to give
their stories more depth and a sense of perspective and history. A future research
46


question may be directed toward journalists to determine why rank background
information seemingly has become so unimportant to the task of reporting a story.
Image and Public Relations
As my literature review indicates, journalists do not like to see themselves as
puppets of public relations practitioners. Therefore, I expected journalists to rank
writing a story that highlights the department unimportant. Reporters firmly believe
their job is to report the news of the event, not serve as the public relations arm of an
organization. I had expected firefighters to rank having a story that reflects positively
on them and the department highly important, but instead they ranked it moderately
important. This ranking is evidence that accurate information and not interfering with
the firefighting process are more important to firefighters than simply looking good.
Victims and Color Commentary
Color commentary is defined as the information which adds emotion to a
news story. Given the nature of firefighting and saving lives, I expected firefighters
to rank talking to witnesses and victims as they did unimportant. Firefighters see
witnesses as victims and reporters as harassers. I also expected journalists to rank
getting color from witnesses, bystanders, and neighbors as highly important.
Talking to witnesses and victims to get color commentary was moderately important
to journalists. A further research question could ask journalists why these issues were
not as important to them as I thought it they would have been.
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Media Fire Academy and Open Forum
The purpose of the open forum session on the last day of the Media Fire
Academy was to give journalists and firefighters an opportunity to discuss their
experiences of the week and share ideas about how they could work more effectively
together. I deliberately used an open forum with little structure to enable firefighters
and journalists the opportunity to lead the discussion themselves and determine on
their own the issues they felt were most important to their relationships with each
other. Several comments from the open forum supported my findings from the
questionnaires. The forum also provided additional insights as to why firefighters
and journalists feel the way they do about some of the issues they brought up in the
questionnaires.
Fear and Avoidance
Firefighters indicated in the questionnaire and the open forum that they have a
fear of talking to journalists and will often go out of their way to avoid them.
Firefighters gave several reasons why they prefer not to speak with journalists.
Firefighters are fearful of making a mistake, looking stupid, or being embarrassed by
appearing on television or in the newspaper. Some firefighters spoke of a fear of
getting in trouble for not concentrating on their tasks and responsibilities if they
talked with reporters. They expressed a belief that dealing with journalists was not
their responsibility but that of the public information officer or chief. They also
mentioned they are hesitant of talking with reporters because of internal
48


consequences. Many firefighters have been instructed to get permission from
superior officers before speaking with journalists and if they failed to do so would be
reprimanded. Firefighters were asked to describe the ideal scenario for working with
a journalist at a fire incident. The overwhelming response was that the journalist
would report to the PIO on scene. Some firefighters indicated they would be more
willing to help journalists if they had better skills or training on how to deal with
journalists. Many said they had never talked with media before and were hesitant to
do so without proper training. The questionnaire findings also indicated that very few
firefighters had been given an opportunity to participate in media training but that
they would be very interested and willing to do so.
Another major reason firefighters prefer not to speak with journalists is the
fear of being misquoted or asked for information they do not have. Firefighters
expressed a fear of saying something and then having it taken out of context. They
also talked of being set-up by journalists. Interestingly, journalists indicated they
understood these concerns and spoke openly about the limited control they actually
have on a story. Journalists stressed they are very careful in how they quote sources
and that they rarely go into a story with preconceived questions or notions. It was
the journalists opinions, however, that their editors frequently do not share this
philosophy. Several journalists commented on the control or slant their editors place
on them for controlling the story and its context. Journalists indicated they, too, were
frustrated by their editors changing copy or pushing a particular slant for a story. One
49


journalist said, When I walk into a story, any story, I try not to have my questions. I
try not to write it before I go in it. I know some editors who know what they are
going to put on the front page three days before the paper comes out. Another said,
Sometimes our biggest battle is when an editor decided [he or she] wanted this kind
of story, and [that he or she] was going to edit and make it that no matter how much
[a journalist] might fight. Journalists said that editor-control of a story is a
frustrating thing because you only have control [of the story] up to a certain
point. Not having absolute control over story content frustrated journalists who
stressed the difficulty this makes in getting sources to trust them to accurately tell the
story without misquoting a source.
Tasks Come First
Firefighters said they do not talk to journalists because it is not their job or
concern to do so. Firefighters emphasized their job was to deal with the emergency,
not the journalists covering it. One firefighter said he thought the problem between
firefighters and journalists was a timing problem concerning when, from whom,
and where a reporter got information. Firefighters said the time for answering
questions was after a scene had been resolved, from a designated spokesperson, and
at a safe location. The firefighter said, We are very task oriented on the fire ground.
We have very specific tasks go to the hydrant, go over the roof.. .we have these
jobs to do and it seems like when were in that process of trying to accomplish a task,
thats when we run across somebody saying, excuse me, were you guys able to go in
50


the front door or did you have to go in the rear, and were like, Well, we cant talk
about it right now.
Another firefighter elaborated on this issue and gave journalists specific tips
on who they need to approach to get what information. He explained to the
journalists that the average firefighter at a fire scene is playing a very specific role
and has been assigned a very specific task. Whether it be to ventilate the roof or
attack [the fire] and take it from the second floor, each firefighter has been given a
very specific task. This makes it difficult for just any firefighter on scene to answer
more general questions about the incident. The firefighters are simply taking care of
the specific tasks needed to support the overall strategy. The firefighter further
explained that firefighters are not the ones who lay out all the strategies and that
they frequently do not know what other tasks are being done to help with the broader
mission. He suggested that if a journalist needs general information about the
incident, such as the number of alarms, personnel on scene, injuries, deaths, and
whether people will be able to return to their homes, the average firefighter probably
does not know the answers. This kind of information, he said, needs to be obtained
from the people in charge of that scene or from those whose job it is to manage the
public information. The benefit of talking to the average firefighter at a scene, he
explained, was that the journalists were likely to get some colorful comments that
might make their news story more interesting. The firefighters suggested the
journalists ask them questions about the specific tasks they are performing and the
51


role that task plays in the incident. Questions such as, What was it like in there, was
it hot? Were you making any headway? Have you been able to search the building
yet? can be answered by firefighters because those are the tasks in which they have
just been involved.
One firefighter elaborated on his own experiences in dealing with journalists
and expressed frustration for being asked questions for which he clearly did not have
the answers. He described an incident in which he was the fourth engine on scene
and as he and his crew pulled up and awaited their assignment a reporter ran over and
asked questions about the incident. His response to the journalist was, Well, I just
got here Im waiting for an assignment. I dont know what the hell is going on. At
this point one of the journalists interrupted and offered a solution on how the
firefighter might deal with a similar situation in the future. The journalist explained
that just as the firefighters have the job of assisting with the incident, reporters have
the job of covering the incident by asking as many people as possible for information.
The journalist explained that he just wanted answers to his questions and that if the
firefighter could not provide an answer, then the most helpful thing would be to offer
assistance by giving the journalist directions to the person who could provide an
answer. The journalist suggested the firefighter simply say that he or she does not
have that information, but that Truck 51 was the first on scene and maybe they
could help. The reporter asked the firefighters to, Just tell me whatever you know
and that would help everyone more effectively do their jobs.
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Protect
Not only is doing their job their first priority, but firefighters said one of their
primary concerns was protecting all people at an incident including journalists.
Several firefighters made comments surrounding the issue of safety for people at a
fire scene. The firefighters explained that preventing journalists from accessing a
scene was not their intention. Their intent on keeping people out is making sure they
are safe. A fire scene can be quite dangerous to anyone who is not part of the
organized chaos of getting the scene under control. Many times the tasks being done
at a scene are hazardous to those who are not typically a part of it. One firefighter
said, If the fire scene is safe enough.. .we can assign somebody and escort you
through to area. If you get inside the perimeter, youre on fire ground and we really
look at your safety as our responsibility. The journalists responded to this comment
by asking the firefighters to communicate clearly about where they can and can not
go. The journalists said they were willing to comply with designated perimeters and
safe zones if those areas are communicated to them. Ignoring a journalist who is
seeking information too close to a scene, only complicates things and endangers
lives, said one reporter. Both sides agree that one of the keys to safety for both
firefighters and journalists was good communication.
Communicate
Firefighters and journalists stressed the need for regular and consistent
communication with each other. Journalists emphasized understanding on behalf of
53


the firefighters that different journalists want and need different things. They pointed
out that print journalists, radio journalists, television journalists, and photojoumalists
all want and need different things to do their jobs. Radio is looking for the great
sound. Television is looking for the emotional pictures. Print is looking for the facts
and background.
An interesting finding of this discussion is an expanded understanding of the
differences between weeklies and dailies, and the specific tasks of particular
journalists from the same agency on scene covering the same story. A weekly is a
newspaper that comes out once a week. This is typical of many smaller community
publications. A daily is a newspaper that comes out each day and is typical of
most major city newspapers. Journalists discussed how weeklies and dailies operate
with different needs and deadlines. One reason the two types of newspapers have
different needs is timing. Chances are that on a major incident readers of a weekly
newspaper already will have read about the event in a daily newspaper. Therefore, a
weekly journalist is going after a slightly different angle. Often a weeklys angle is
community one focusing on the people involved in the incident. The weekly
journalist described it this way: When I roll up at fire, my readers are going to read
several days later what [the daily] already wrote about. I dont want to get the same
quotes. I dont want to talk to you at the same time ... If [the daily] is using the
same quote that Im using, its old to me, its not useful to me, and Im sure its the
same with the Post, Rocky, or with 4 or 9. You dont want the same thing.
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One journalist chalked this attitude of needing my own thing up to
journalism simply being a competitive business. Another journalist said that it is
more a notion of professional pride, that she wants to be different and get a
different perspective for her readers. A journalist from a daily newspaper discussed
how different journalists from the same agency often need different information to do
their jobs when covering the same story. She explained how her needs often depend
upon what her particular assignment is and the scale of the event: If its a huge
event, theyre going to send five journalists. And the first journalist on the scene goes
to the PIO. They need to know the fatalities [and] the scope of the event so [the
editors] can send in additional journalists. She said the first journalist on scene is
responsible for assessing the situation and getting basic information back to the
newsroom. The second, third, or fourth journalists on scene are responsible for
getting the color. Getting color involves talking to witnesses, firefighters and
emergency personnel, and victims. Several journalists also referred to the clean-up
crew. The clean-up crew are those journalists who come in to do the second-day
follow up stories and related side-bars. The tricky part of understanding the fact that
different journalists have different needs is that most firefighters on scene can not and
do not differentiate between journalists needs or recognize differences between
journalists.
Journalists emphasized to the firefighters the importance of regular and
consistent information. Many journalists told stories of arriving on scene and being
55


ignored or put off and used their anger to justify their assertiveness at a scene. The
key thing, one journalist said, is to explain things to journalists. If you dont explain
it to us.. .there may be some journalists who will just assume youre keeping us out
because were the press. And then they are pissed off and theyll try to go around
you. But if you explain [things] to them, 95% of journalists will be accommodating
and understanding, he said. Another journalist said he didnt mind being sent away
from an arson crime scene, but at least put up tape to communicate that it is indeed
a crime scene. Another journalist stressed the importance of telling a journalist when
it might be okay for them to get into a particular area. Journalists indicated that
communication, be it verbal or nonverbal, is essential to helping them get the
information they need to do their jobs without interfering with the firefighting
process. Just dont forget about us, one journalist asked.
Joe Schmo. Lookv Lou. John Doe, and Joe Blow
Journalists and firefighters stressed the need for journalists to identify
themselves at the scene in order to differentiate themselves from the bystanders just
checking out the action. Both groups emphasized there would be greater cooperation
if each side knew that who they were dealing with was a professional journalist. One
firefighter said his departments main weakness is crowd control and that it needed to
be more effective at setting up a perimeter with tape: It seems we dont give much
thought to keeping people out of the fire area, whether they be media or neighbors or
looky-Lous or just people that just show up to see whats going on. The firefighters
56


involved in the discussion believed the public information process at a scene would
work more effectively if the fire department had good crowd control. They
suggested that a best case scenario for working with the media at an incident would
be if media folks would come in and either report to the PIO or incident commander
in an area where we can disseminate information. That way, reporters can be safe
while getting the information they need and not interfere with the rescue efforts by
milling around and coming in and out.
Both journalists and firefighters also stressed the importance of knowing who
the professional journalists are versus the curious neighbors. One journalist
commented, We are professionals, we do this for a living. But there are a lot of
people out there who have a camera and they just want to come onto the scene to take
pictures. He said if journalists could walk up to the chief or PIO and let them know
they are there, show them press credentials and that they are not just some Joe
Schmo with an instamatic camera, communicating with each other would be easier.
We want to be distinguished from the Looky-Lous, said one journalist. Firefighters
complained that very few journalists ever introduce themselves prior to asking a
question. Journalists seemed surprised by this fact and suggested firefighters give
them hell when they do not introduce themselves first. The journalists also
suggested such journalists need a lesson in politeness. Firefighters said, If we
know were dealing with the professional news media and not just Joe Schmo who
lives down on the comer.. .Ill be glad to tell you where to get the information. But if
57


a firefighter thinks the journalist is just Joe Schmo, Im going to tell you to get the
hell out of my way.
Firefighters reinforced the need for journalists to introduce themselves by
saying that knowing who was covering a story would help them better assist
reporters. One firefighter asked journalists to, State what it is you need. If you need
pictures, you need information, you need something else.. .if you need pictures, let
me have someone escort you and tell you the risks going on. Firefighters felt
strongly they could be more helpful in accommodating media requests when they
knew what the media needed and wanted.
Similarly, journalists commented that one of the most frustrating things is
showing up at a scene and not knowing who has the information they need. One
journalist said that one of the most beneficial things she learned during the Media Fire
Academy was how to recognize the PIO or chief at a scene. Just telling us to look
for the white helmet to find the chief and where to find the PIO cleared a lot up, he
said.
Empathy
One of the major reasons for conducting an open forum session was to debrief
and share experiences from the Media Fire Academy. I expected the Media Fire
Academy to strengthen relationships between firefighters and journalists and this was
proven correct. Journalists definitely seemed to empathize with the firefighters.
They had a better understanding of firefighters and the role they play in the
58


community. Journalists also developed their own story ideas. By the second day of
the Media Fire Academy, journalists had indicated they had several story ideas they
wished to pursue over the next few months. Likewise, all journalists participating in
the academy agreed in the evaluation that they developed story ideas as a result of
their involvement in the program (Appendix F).
One journalist said the greatest benefit of the week was gaining a better
understanding of what firefighters do and why. She referred to the fact that many
journalists who cover emergency incidents simply do not understand what firefighters
are doing. For example, most journalists would not necessarily understand
defensive posture she said, and when they go to write the story they risk writing
something inaccurate because they do not understand the actions taking place at a fire
scene. Understanding what it physically takes and why you are doing X, Y, and Z is
helpful because then they wont ask the stupid questions or they wont write it the
wrong way. That has been the benefit of [the academy]. Another journalist claimed,
Going though this week, we know what you do now. Before this I didnt know how
or why you guys did what. The next time Im at a fire, Ill know what youre doing.
When asked if they thought the academy had given them tools or information
to help them do their jobs more effectively, one journalist replied, Very much so.
Because now I think I know what they go through whereas before, we thought they
just showed up and fought the fire. Ive seen what they go through and how difficult
it is to pull a line off the truck, hook it up, and how much time they have to do it. We
59


show up with our cameras and take our pictures and thats not hard for me it just
comes naturally. But their work is so physically back-breaking work, crawling in, the
claustrophobic feeling of going into a building not knowing where the stairs are.. .its
just been very invaluable. Its been a really good teaching tool.
One journalist said she now had information that would prevent her from
misconstruing information in her stories. She said journalists who participate in this
program will be able to ask better questions resulting in more accurate and
informative stories. She said the question now would be, Are you presenting a
defensive attack? rather than, What the hell are you doing? Another journalist
said her job involves trying to get the most reliable form of communication and that
in many cases that means going up and talking to a complete stranger. How well
you communicate with the people you see each day helps eliminate
misunderstandings, she said. Another journalist agreed that accuracy was a major
benefit. It makes you a more accurate journalist thats the key, she said. Many
indicated they wished other agencies would do similar programs. The more
knowledge you have on [a story] the easier its going to be.. .its too bad more
agencies arent doing something like this, he said. Another journalist said the
academy experience would help her keep information accurate and reduce the risks of
misquoting someone or taking comments out of context. She said, this academy
helps in that it helps give us some context to put things in so that.. .we dont go and
60


explain it wrong. Now we understand it and so now when you explain something to
me its all in a matter of context.
Journalists also said the academy experience would help in that they will have
a much safer reporting environment. Most journalists at a fire scene do not
understand the risks. They dont understand why they can not just walk right up to it.
This is going to educate them as to what areas are risks and they may not just go
marching right up there. This realization seemed to comfort firefighters who had
earlier expressed concern for journalists safety.
Journalists cited specific examples as to how the things they had learned in the
academy could be applied to real life. They indicated that after participating in the
academy they now had an increased understanding of firefighters jobs; increased
empathy with firefighters; increased accuracy in reporting; and an increased
understanding of incident command and locating information sources at the scene.
Journalists indicated that their increased knowledge of firefighting would help them
ask better-informed questions and conduct better interviews.
Journalists also indicated they had nurtured relationships and built new
trustworthy news sources among the firefighters with whom they had been working.
Both journalists and firefighters indicated they had a new mutual respect for each
other and that there had been a mutual increased understanding of each others needs
that would prove beneficial down the road. Asking better questions, having better
rapport with sources, and understanding information will help them be better
61


journalists. When I get to a scene, one journalist said, I know now that if I treat a
firefighter with respect, hell treat me with respect.
Summarized below are the findings from the journalists evaluations of the
Media Fire Academy.
All journalists strongly agreed or agreed they gained a solid understanding of the
role and responsibilities firefighters play in our community.
All journalists strongly agreed they gained insights into firefighting that will help
them better cover fire and rescue incidents in the future.
All journalists strongly agreed they gained an appreciation for the daily
experiences of firefighters.
All journalists strongly agreed they believed the Media Fire Academy was useful
in building a positive relationship with potential news sources in the fire/rescue
field.
All journalists strongly agreed they would recommend to their peers that they
participate in future Media Fire Academies.
All journalists strongly agreed they learned valuable information that will prove
helpful to them when covering future fire/rescue news stories.
All journalists agreed or strongly agreed they discovered other story ideas they
wanted to pursue with West Metro in the future during the course of the Media
Fire Academy.
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All journalists strongly agreed they will call upon West Metro Fire Protection
District in the future when working on a fire or rescue news story.
Other comments from journalists included recommending the academy
continue to be offered five-days straight, despite the difficulty in getting news
agencies to commit personnel for that much time. Journalists suggested the academy
be offered to journalists during non-sweeps months. Some journalists asked that the
physical aspect of the academy be stressed more so editors do not overburden
journalists during the week with other duties. Most journalists had to make deals
with their editors and had to promise they would be able to do their jobs in addition to
participating in the academy in order to get permission to attend. Despite the
intensity and physical strain journalists had a difficult time identifying something
they did not like about the experience. Participating journalists stressed they would
help sell the program to their photojoumalists and encourage colleagues to participate
in future academies.
Although this study focused on the public and media relations efforts of one
'J
fire department, the information gained from it can be applied to almost any public
relations arena. Listed below are suggestions for implementing a more effective
media relations program.
1. Recognize the different roles and needs of journalists. To effectively
work with reporters, a public relations practitioner must understand
what each reporters needs when. Understanding that television and
63


print photographers want different pictures, like print, radio, and
television reporters want different soundbites and quotes will help
improve the quality of news coverage and the source organizations
image. Additionally, it is critical to understand the different story
needs of the journalist who arrives first on scene and the journalist
who arrives last. Likewise, recognize that reporters who work the daily
beat and those who work the weekly beat often have different timing
issues that determine the story angle they will choose to pursue.
2. Share with cooperating agencieshow you prefer to manage media at an
emergency scene in which your organization has assumed the lead.
This is particularly important for fire, rescue, emergency medical
services, municipalities, and police departments who frequently work
the same incidents together.
3. Recognize that news is a competitive business.
4. Tie non-emergency news pitches to other trends to create a news angle
and perspective.
5. Cultivate relationships with reporters and photographers during non-
crisis situations.
6. Invite journalists to experience the lives of their sources by
participating in programs like the Media Fire Academy or ride-along
programs.
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7. Encourage firefighters, or other employees, to experience the lives of
journalists by spending the day with them hunting down and reporting
news stories.
8. Conduct media training opportunities for all personnel. Invite
journalists with whom you regularly work to participate in the training
process.
9. Meet regularly with journalists with whom you work. Invite
firefighters and other employees to join you for the discussion.
Conclusion
Through this study I argue that empathy can be a powerful persuasive tool to
build media relationships and enhance news coverage. The study examines
documented public relations, persuasion, and media relations research findings and
applies the concepts to real-life, practical experiences. In an effort to increase the
medias knowledge of urban firefighting and build an appreciation for the daily
experiences of firefighters, I invited journalists to participate in a mini-fire academy
that actually trained journalists to fight fires and then put them in real fire situations.
In addition to the above mentioned reasons for conducting the research and
the academy, the fire department is hoping journalists who participated in the event
will find themselves empathizing with firefighters and thereby self-persuading
themselves to generate their own story ideas for news coverage. In fact, in the
months following the academy, one journalist convinced her newspaper to designate a
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weekly column for West Metro to highlight its Fire Calls of the week. The
television journalist who participated has come to the department on a weekly basis
with story ideas and calls upon West Metro any time it needs assistance with a live
shot or fire/rescue piece.
This study is just one example of how empathy when used as a persuasive tool
can serve public relations practitioners by helping them establish better media
relations while simultaneously helping journalists develop and cover new stories. If
the public relations industry can embrace the concept of empathetic media relations
and apply it to every day persuasion efforts with journalists, the possibilities of public
relations success through media relations suddenly become endless.
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Appendix A
OPEN FORUM TRANSCRIPTION
The following discussion took place the final day of a week-long media
academy. Its purposes were two-fold: 1) to debrief and share personal experiences
from the week; and 2) to discuss ways in which journalists and firefighters could
work more cooperatively and enable both groups to do their jobs more effectively.
These questions were prepared ahead of time to serve as discussion points.
What are your biggest concerns when dealing with a fire, rescue or EMS effort?
What are your greatest frustrations?
What do you believe is the role of a public information officer?
What are you looking for in pictures, sound bites, etc.?
Please note, the conversation was transcribed exactly as it occurred.
Transcription Codes:
M ; Moderator
R - Journalist
FF = Firefighter
M: What wed like to do now is give the two sides a chance to speak their minds.
What can we do to make it easier on the scene to help you do your jobs? And
at the same time, we want to hear from firefighters on what they would like
you [journalists] to do. The point is to have a dialogue. Lets start with the
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firefighters. In an ideal situation an ideal fire scene what or how would the
relationship go if you guys are working a fire and youve got six journalists
there? What is the best case scenario? How would the whole thing unfold if
the journalists do exactly what you wanted them to do?
FF: Theyd all report to the PIO on scene would be the ideal.
R: Now that we know who the PIO is thats good. But from a photographers
standpoint, how would I get the pictures I need and do my job?
FF: One thing I think we have a problem with is scene and crowd control. Just
the way we operate it seems we dont give much thought to keeping people
out of the fire area. Whether they be media or neighbors or looky-loos or just
people that show up to see whats going on. Were pretty weak about putting
up our tape. I think ideally how it would work is wed have good crowd
control on scene, and then media folks would come in and either report to the
PIO or the incident commander in an area where we can disseminate
information to you and you can go about from there instead of milling around
and coming in and out. Whether you need photographs of the fire area, if the
fire scene is safe enough where we can assign somebody to escort you and
walk you through the area, that would be the ideal. Instead of, Here I am
inside trying to pull a ceiling, and I see a nice telephoto lens come in through
a broken window -- or you see some guy walking around with a $30,000
camera on his back and hes walking through all the rubble inside and he just
68


walks in the door or something and here I am still trying to put out hot spots
and stuff like that.
R: One thing that would be nice is if we thought you would keep us back at a
safe distance, but still allow us to get a good shot. Like you said, if we had
somebody, that we could have a designated person or area that we report to
and wait for information and then at certain times they dont just forget about
us. You know, if someone said while theres still flames, You want to get a
good shot, follow me well go in, well get the shot, well come back out.
Perfect That would be great.
M: Lets hear from the journalists and journalists of your ideal situation. You
come up upon a fire and what is the best case scenario?
R: It was kind of explained earlier when we talking to Chief Brown and one of
the concerns was once you show up at a scene, be it shoot pictures or report,
was in all the confusion and everything going on nobodys sure who it is
that youre supposed to talk to. You dont want to just start running up to
people, Hey, whos this? You know, just being a disturbance. And once
again he had told us first of all, if nothing else look for the white helmet. And
dont talk to the incident commander hes going to either talk to you and tell
you where you can go so he can keep an eye on you, or send you to the PIO.
But that cleared a lot up right there. That alone, just saying, Look for the
white.
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R: I think another thing is something thats really, really good is that there are a
lot, I mean were professionals. We do this for a living but there are a lot of
people out there who have a camera and they just want to come into the scene
to take pictures. You know were there to do a job. Theyre there just to get a
picture. We have editors that want good art from us. If we show up to the
scene, I think one of the main things is if we could walk up to the chief or who
ever is the PIO and let them know were there, and show them our press
credentials so they know were there and they know were not just some Joe
Schmo with an Instamatic here that happens to live down the street and take a
picture. That the police dont come up grab and pull us away. To let them
know that were there and we are walking around the perimeter taking
pictures and we will understand that you guys are responsible for our safety
and that I think its good to let you guys know were there. I know a lot of
photographers just walk up and start shooting. Then Im not in fear of
someone coming up and saying, Get the hell out of here! Who are you? What
are doing you here? You know, that kind of thing. To let them know that we
are journalists we are legitimate, we have press credentials, and were there
to do a job.
FF: Ive known Tom a few years and so if I see him on scene well stop and say,
Hey!and chat with him for a bit. And then Ill go on my way. But unless
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its you or some flake from one of the news stations with a big ol camera on
his shoulder, I wouldnt know a print journalist from anyone else.
M: When you guys did the arson stuff on Wednesday morning, one complaint I
hear a lot from firefighters is that when its a crime scene and they dont know
at that point when its happening for sure if its arson or not, but they have
to treat it that way. And I hear a lot that theyd love to be accommodating to
journalists but they dont want to at the same time because it is a crime scene
and they cant have them walking all over the place messing up evidence.
What, from either side, do you think we could do to balance that out and help
everybody do their jobs but not interfere with the investigation?
R: I dont mind being sent away from a crime scene, but at least put up tape.
R: Set up a perimeter for us. Youre safe, you wont interfere with us as long
as you stay within 25 feet of the structure. Obviously if the fire, if wind
struck the fire, were not going to stand on the side where the fire is going, but
I think a perimeter would be nice just so were not stuck in one area.
Sometimes I feel like, like on the bam fire I was cool with that. Thats where
the action was. Thats where we want to be for the photos. But I dont want
to be stuck there because if I see a firefighter running out of the building with
a cat or somebody rescued, I want to be over there too. But I dont want to
have to walk through the fire [to get there].
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R: The key thing is to explain that to us. Because if you dont explain it to us,
there may be some journalists who will just assume youre keeping us out
because were the press. And then theyre pissed off and theyll try to go
around you. But if you explain that to them, 95% of journalists will be
accommodating and understanding. But if you dont explain it to them, then
theyre going to stand there.
R: Whats also a real helpful thing, having police around. Because if theyre the
ones enforcing your crime scene area, have them explain.
R: Or be able to say, We think well be able to let you in at x time or y time,
which you cant always judge but you can try.
R: I know if I were to show up at a scene and I located the chiefs and stuff like
that, and somebody just blows me off, Im going to go my own way and get
the story because I dont know whats going on. And I think when someone
says, There are explosives in there, dont go near there. If I feel like
somebodys not communicating with me, Im going to say, Im just going to
say what the hell, Im just going to get my pictures and leave. And Im going
to sneak around or walk around.
R: For me, theres not just one best scenario of how things would occur. It
would depend upon what my assignment is and how big the event is.
Meaning if its a huge event, theyre going to send five journalists and the
first journalist on the scene goes to the PIO. They need to know the fatalities,
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what the scope of the event so they can call in additional journalists. So in
that scenario, yah, I need the PIO. My approach would be I walk up to a
firefighter that looks like hes not too busy and say, Whose the person Im
going to pick on today? And theyll usually always send me to the person
they know who is the incident commander. But if Im the third or fourth
journalist on the scene, thats not my job. My job is to get the color and so Ill
want firefighters. I will ask them questions like, Was it fully involved when
you came? What did it look like? And thats where we want the color. And I
may not even get to a firefighter. Im going to look for the citizens standing
there. I think the key to this week is, I think the biggest problem you
probably have with media is not understanding what youre doing. They
wouldnt necessarily understand a defensive posture. And so when they go to
report the story and they dont understand the fire science part of it or the risk
factors, theyre going to say something thats inaccurate because theyre not
understanding what youre doing. Understanding what it physically takes
and why youre doing X, Y, and Z is helpful because then they wont ask the
stupid questions or they wont write it the wrong way. Thats been the benefit
of this.
R: Going through this week, we know what you do now. Before this, I didnt
know how or why you guys did what or how long it took. Just watching you
guys and doing it ourselves, we know what youre doing. Seeing you do it.
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The next time Im at a fire Ill know what youre doing and how long it takes
you to put a fire out and stuff.
R: Some of the obvious things now that wed see going on, that we didnt know
about before which can be misconstrued. Remember when we were talking
about if you have a heart attack or something and people say, Why is a fire
truck with the ambulance? And its an obvious question and something we
could clear up now that we know about the manpower and all that kind of
thing. When theres afire, theres fire coming out of these windows. But
why arent you shooting at it? Why are you hitting the exposure of the house
next door? And those kind of things that wed be sitting there babbling about.
But now we know and were not even going to bother asking the questions.
R: Are you presenting a defensive attack?, would be the question instead of,
What the hell are you doing? It doesnt mean youre going to eliminate all
stupid questions or obnoxious questions. For example, like on the gas
explosion. In talking with the neighbors they would say, They sent the truck
to the wrong house, or This is an old neighborhood and there werent
enough fire hydrants, and sort of bitching about that things which in reality
may have been part of the problem. But in talking to the PIO, I had to go back
and tell her this is what the neighbors are complaining about or telling me.
And she said, Look, we got eight calls immediately. Some people were
saying it was on this street. Some people were saying it was on that street. So
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we rolled down both streets. Maybe the neighbors saw something valid -
that something went wrong and youre still going to get those questions.
R: As you do this job, we are relying on the most reliable form of communication
- which is going up and talking to a complete stranger. I mean, how well you
communicate with what or the people you see each day helps eliminate
misunderstandings.
R: I was on that fire on Wadsworth just past Colfax the one where the guy set
the fire at the records place. And I got there right after the fire started and you
guys were laying out the hose basically. And when I got there, I was really
close and I parked and walked over and stood by one of the engines. And you
guys were waiting there to attack the fire and Id been there since the start and
then the police started drawing their police line and I was standing there for
the longest time taking pictures. I was right in front of the fire truck
scrunched down just snapping pictures. And I when I walked out from behind
that fire truck, I got yanked out of there by a guy with a shotgun and he was
yelling at me because I was behind the police line. But I had been there
forever.
R: Most journalists at a fire scene do not understand the risks. They dont
understand why they cant just walk right up to it out of ignorance. Oh,
yah, the police are gone it cant, theres no risk of collapse. This is going to
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educate them as to what areas are risks and they may not just go marching
right up there.
M: Do you think it would be helpful knowing these things now, to check in when
you get there to the person in charge?
R: Yah.
FF: State what it is you need. If you need pictures, you need information, you
need something else. TV needs to get their stuff. You need pictures, let me
have someone escort you and tell you, This is the risk going on you get
your shots from here, here, and here and thats it. And then we can direct you
to the PIO. A couple of things need to happen if you get inside that
perimeter youre on fire ground. We really look at your safety as our
responsibility.
R: This is something that the PIO could probably help us with in that each of the
police and sheriffs departments all have PIOs too. Through EPIOSC [state
PIO association], you can probably let them know that, Heres what our
firefighters would like as far as dealing with the media when you guys pull up
on scene. And see if that message can get down to those deputies and line
officers and even through a formal survey. Or meet with editors and meet
with journalists who are likely to cover metro news and might be out dealing
with our people and put a face with a name that kind of thing. And kind of
find out what people want and even write something up so that people can talk
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about it. You know, because I just think that would be helpful. Its almost
like a fantasy of mine that I will go to something and there would be
communication about how were going to deal with the media between two
different agencies. And that would be really helpful. I havent had a problem
with West Metro or Jefferson County, but in other areas I have.
R: Six media outlets show up and they all show up at different times and they all
have the same requirements. The PIOs not a problem the incident
commander is the problem. A journalist shows up, asks the questions, gets the
answers. Then the next journalist shows up and has to ask the exact same
questions and you have to go through the whole thing six times. And I dont
know how you can get around that. You cant ask us all to show up at the
same time. Or the problem is we hear it go out over the scanner and youre
sitting in the office and youve got to decide, Are we going on this? Do we
have the resources? And you know youre calling in right when the
dispatchers are trying to send eight million people out. I have never figured
out how to get around that problem. And usually if you do that you just need
two things [1] Are there people in it? [2] Boom, youre out. And I dont
know how to get around that problem. And something else is that I dont
necessarily want to get around that problem either. Because when I roll up,
lets say Staci [print daily journalist] and I are at the same fire. My readers
are going to read several days later what Staci already wrote about. I dont
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want to get the same quotes. I dont want to talk to you at the same time, and
have the same conversation with you that she had. If shes using the same
quote that Im using, its old to me. Its not useful to me. And Im sure its
the same way with the Post and the Rocky or with channels 4 or 9. You dont
want the same thing.
R: Its a competitive business.
R: I get no benefit out of being different from Staci. Nobody pays me more.
Nobody says, Hey, youre exactly the same. Its just sort of that
professional pride that I would like to be different. Id like to get a different
perspective for my readers. If I cant, then I wont. And quite often Ive
written the same story everybody else wrote.
R: Your end product is very different from some of the other media people. And
TV coverage, it seems they want to be the first ones.
M: What are the main reasons that firefighters dont want to talk to journalists at
the scene?
FF: Because well screw up.
FF: Two main reasons. One is just the fear of not knowing what to say or how to
answer a question. How to participate in an interview process. You know,
we dont want to come across like were a bumbling fool, that we dont know
what were talking about or we dont want to give the wrong information out.
And then two, I think its a timing problem between media and firefighter
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guys because were very task-oriented on the fire ground. We have very
specific tasks. Go get the hydrant. Go over the roof. You know. We have
these jobs to do and it seems like when were in that process of trying to
accomplish a task, thats when we run across somebody saying, Excuse me,
were you guys able to go in through the front door or did you have to go in
through the rear? And were like, Well, we cant talk about it right now...
so...
FF: Another thing is that usually all the crews have been instructed to have all
media go over to the PIO or the officer on scene because thats what theyve
been told.
FF: When your average firefighter is doing a task on a scene, first of all theyre
very busy and secondly they are not in charge of that scene. They are not the
ones who laid out all the strategies and what it is we need to accomplish here
and taken in all the factors. Theyve been given an assignment you know -
ventilate the roof attack, take it from the second floor they are taking care of
the tasks to support the strategy. So if you need information about what you
want to get as far as how many alarms, and how many personnel you have on
scene, the firefighters may not even know. So those kinds of things I think
you need to get answered from the people in charge of that scene. They are
the ones who are going to have those answers. At times when you can grab a
firefighter and I think if you were asking them questions like when you just
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saw them come out of a building maybe, What was it like in there, was it
hot? Were you making any head way? Have you been able to search the
building yet? those types of things. They can answer briefly. If you ask
them about the things and the tasks that theyve just been involved in. They
can probably give you some colorful information, about yah this is what it
was like when we first got on scene, and we were able to knock it down pretty
quick, and that type of stuff.
FF: I think youll find that a lot of guys spend a lot of time training for these types
of situations, and you dont get a lot of them. And when they do occur, a lot
of these guys are like, Look, Id really like to talk to you, but I want to be in
here Ive spent eight, nine years down at the academy three times every year
going through the maze doing all the stuff, training to do this and now is my
chance to do it and I want to get in there.
FF: We do a lot of things at the fire department, but really, fire is not our main job.
We just dont get that many fires and when we do, we want to be in the action
and involved. We had a structure a fire a couple weeks ago and we had
problems getting in and access to everything. And once we finally got in
where the fire was, we couldnt find the fire and then we got pulled out and so
here we were. We were the first-in engine crew. We laid our lines. We did
our initial attack and we couldnt put out the fire, and so that pissed us off.
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We finally get one, we finally get a nice fire and then we cant find the damn
thing.
R: You could put out a fire in your sleep I guess from all the training youve had.
But if you dont have experience doing interviews, thats easy. Thats
something you can get. And if that, I guess Ive never had it put to me in
those terms. Ive done a lot of consulting especially with police departments,
theres not an exact rule. I ask different questions than Staci asks. I have a
different approach. Were two totally different people and I can at least get
you prepared. And another thing that I know a lot of police officers say is,
Yah I talked to them, but then they screwed it all up and they get all the
information wrong, and take it out of context. Which is something that this
academy helps is that it helps give us some context to put things in so that you
dont explain how something works and then we go and explain it wrong.
Now we understand it and so now when you explain something to me its all
in a matter of context.
R: This has been a really good
R: An invaluable...
R: An invaluable academy and this is the best thing you guys have done.
FF: And see for you guys now going through the academy you guys have a much
better understanding. What we need to do is get some of our guys to talk with
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you guys as well. It would be a learning process for them so that when you
guys show up and Im like, Uh oh, journalists gotta get busy, you know.
FF: Sometimes were sitting around the firehouse watching the 5 oclock news
and Castle wood has a fire. And so they talk to one of the guys from
Castlewood and were sitting there laughing, going, What a dork, God I
dont believe he said that. And so when we see journalists on the scene were
like, Were outta here.
R: What you think looks like an idiot doesnt always to the general public.
Youre probably laughing at them because they said some technical term the
wrong way or whatever, but Joe Blow person would never know the
difference.
FF: You dont want to look like an idiot in front of your peers, your fellow
journalists, and media personnel...
R: Oh no you get used to being humiliated. Thats a big part of the job. I would
welcome you to come and see what its like for us.
R: When I walk into a story, any story, I try not to have my questions. I try not
to write it before I go into it. I know some editors who knew what they were
going to put on the front page three days before the paper came out and you
did what they said and the story came out in the way they wanted it to.
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R: Sometimes our biggest battle is when an editor decides they want this kind of
story. And theyre going to edit and make it that, no matter how you fight
tooth and nail, thats not what the story is about.
FF: See thats what the guys are afraid of getting caught into...
FF: You take your story back, but like I said. The editors like, No, Im putting it
into this mold, and all of a sudden theres quotes and this guys like wait a
minute.
R: Thats right, and I dont know how to adjust that. Thats always a frustrating
thing as a journalist you only have control up to a certain point.
M: And you dont write the headlines. What about during non-emergency
situations, those times year round when were just trying to get stories out or
get you guys to come cover this or that. What are things we can do to either
help you do that or approach you in ways that youll be more receptive?
R: I can give you the newsworthy criteria timeliness, proximity, nearby,
prominence, importance. I always feel like, like the face program. Ill
probably do that on my community page next week because it was interesting
to me, not from the fire prevention week or whatever was going on. That
wasnt why that was interesting to me. Thats not on most peoples calendars.
But what is interesting to me about it is that weve had a couple of arson fires
in S. Jeffco and I read the reports from the sheriff department and so that
peaks my interest. And chances are people also will be interested in it. The
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FACE program in conjunction with something else thats already going on.
Theres something you can look at it doesnt have to be the big fires that
everyones heard about. It can be the smallest incident that nobody went out
on, but wed probably be interested if we knew about it. Take the news
release on the FACE program. But that whole concept of that news release
could have been enhanced for me had Dan written in there, Several arson
cases in South Jeffco have been reported and maybe use one as an example.
Or heres one that going on currently regarding... You know anything like that
thats going to peak my interest. Something that could give me a news peg
that I can hang that story on thats going to make it relevant for my reader.
And those things have to do with just some of the classic definitions of news.
And thats something else that I always emphasize to my students when they
are either cultivating sources. You go to any PIO or any person -1 cultivate
relationships with potential sources and then my sources begin to understand
what I think is newsworthy. I get two to three story ideas a week from the
sheriffs department because Ive cultivated those relationships. If you can
tie it into something this week or next week, thats going to be a lot more
meaningful.
M: Do you think that this week has given you some tools or some information
that will help you do your job more effectively?
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R: Very much so. Because I think now I know what they go through. Whereas
before, we thought they just showed up and fought the fire. Ive seen what
they go through and how difficult it is to pull a line off the truck, hook it up,
how much time they have. We show up with our cameras and take our
pictures and thats not that hard for me it just comes naturally. But their
work is so physically back-breaking work, crawling in, the claustrophobic
feeling of going into a building and not knowing where the stairs are. Its just
been very invaluable. Its been a really good teaching tool and I was very
happy when you guys invited us to participate because I love firefighters.
R: Its a basic knowledge thing. You could incorporate this into almost anything,
say law enforcement. Any other thing you have out there, the more
knowledge you have on it the easier its going to be for you. Its too bad more
agencies arent doing something like this.
R: Its accuracy. It makes you a more accurate journalist thats the key.
M: What about the relationship? Has it been helpful to know who the chiefs are
now? When you go to a scene, now youre going to see a face you recognize.
Is that something thats helpful?
R: Yah, cuz-
R: Thats going to work both ways.
R: Thats more valuable for these guys. Because I dont often get thrown out
there, Im the second day sweep us person.
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FF: Now you really know what its like to be us.
R: Its more valuable for me in terms of sources. For if I want to do a story
about.. .Im going to be sort of doing the larger feature story.
FF: Its really difficult when you guys just grab the first firefighter you encounter.
Thats fine for some things, and if these guys know that they are maybe not
going to be quoted as this is the cause of the fire because nobody has a clue.
But if a firefighter, say it was a basement fire, Yah it was really hot down
there it took two lines to work our way down... now you guys have a better
appreciation for exactly what it is hes talking about.
R: Thats whats beneficial to the journalists. They ask better questions. They
have a better rapor, they get better information.
FF: If you can develop some questions that we know were going to get...
M: If you knew a journalists intention, if you knew the journalist was going to
ask you this sort of question, would you be more comfortable answering it?
FF: If anybodys going to come up and ask me a question and try to trip me up
and try to get me to put out some wrong information, I just I think theres just
that fear of the way our system is set up that if you want to talk youre
supposed to be granted permission first.
FF: Right the fear is for getting in trouble with your higher ups.
R: Internal fear.
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FF: Lets say Im waiting for an assignment and I just show up at this fire. Im
part of the third alarm or whatever, and were brought in from clear across
town. Were parked two blocks away and my crew comes walking up to
incident command to get our assignment and a journalist comes up and says.
Can you tell me whats going on? and I say, Well, I just got here Im
waiting for an assignment. I dont what the hells going on...
R: Then you say.. .Truck 51 was the first on scene. Like when I was at the gas
explosion on 5th avenue. There I was the color person, so thats the truck Im
looking for and I found it. Just tell me whatever you know.
FF: Sometimes we dont even know that. It Im the third alarm and Ive come
from Chatfield and Wadsworth, to 20th and Wadswroth, I dont know who
was first in -1 dont know ....
R: Now that we can put a face with a name, when I go to a scene, I know now
that if I treat a firefighter with respect, hell treat me with respect. My whole
problem is that I show up on scene fast...
R: We want to be distinguished from the looky loos.
FF: You media people show up and they just grab any of us, Im so and so with
the Post, or whoever, Can you answer this question? Well be more than
happy to say, You need to go down the road...
R: Does that happen a lot, journalists dont introduce themselves?
ALL: Yah, yah. All the time. Hey whats going on where did the fire start?
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FF: Journalists dont introduce themselves.
R: Give them hell.
R: If you have a journalist does that you should say something to them.
R: If you dont have a journalist who introduces themselves, they need a lesson
in politeness.
FF: If we know were dealing with the professional news media and not just Joe
Schmo who lives down on the comer whose just watching Ill be glad to
tell you where to get the information. But if its Joe Schmo Im going to tell
you to get the hell out of my way.
R: Not all journalists have press credentials. Rarely. I think its important that
they introduce themselves as journalists with such and such.
Conversation ended and journalists completed written evaluations on Media Fire
Academy experience.
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Appendix B
JOURNALISTS RESPONSES MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO WORKING
WITH FIREFIGHTERS ON NEWS STORIES
Journalists responses to the statement, List the two or three most important things in
working with firefighters on a news story.
Responses:
Communication
Mutual respect
Accuracy and safety
Accurate, quick information
Access to witness and victims
Getting the info I need in the context I can understand.
Getting the color I want.
Knowing what is going on in my neighborhood and stuff my readers care about.
Urgency of getting information even if its a bit at a time.
Getting accurate information.
Staying out of each others way and complying with incident command.
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Appendix C
JOURNALISTS RESPONSES WORDS THAT COME TO MIND
Journalists responses to the statement, List the first one or two words that come to
mind when you think of firefighters.
Responses:
Dedication
Compassion
Courage
Macho
Brave
Tough
Compassionate
Heroic
Strong
Brave
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Appendix D
FIREFIGHTERS RESPONSES MOST IMPORTANT THINGS
Firefighters responses to the statement, List the two or three things you feel are
most important to working with the media.
Responses:
Honesty but guard your answers
Be brief- time is important to all of us
Helpfulness media can make or break us
Have a working relationship with the media; give the media facts on a timely
basis.
Conveying information so that it is not interpreted wrongly.
Conveying fire department jargon in laymens terms for the general public.
Remaining on the good side of the news media (working relationship) having a
designated on scene media area (safety) and having an experienced PIO on the
fire line.
Composure.
Clarity.
Good information.
Accuracy in reports.
Have acted many times as PIO for large scenes; a consistent individual speaking
on behalf of the department lends credence to the media and speaks uniformly for
that particular organization.
Honesty & integrity.
Trust. Accurate reporting of facts. Presentation of positive, public service image
of fire department when appropriate. Fire department and media cooperative
effort in public education. Be part of the professional scene not interfering with.
Truthful, non-biased, accurate reports are the goal. The media would get more
information if there wasnt a fear that comments would be distorted or edited out
of context to create sensationalistic news.
Cover-up what we have done wrong protect the image of the department.
Tell the truth Be brief get them close to the action.
Honesty, facts be human.
Direct them to person in charge or PIO.
Do not say anything to media unless told to by person in charge or PIO.

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