Reader's view: Public spokesmen keep information flowing


October 6, 2013 

I'm confused by the Statesman article on Sept. 29 that disrespectfully referred to all government public information officers as "flacks" and suggested their job is to obstruct information.

I'm confused as to the purpose of the article since there was not one example of such obstruction ever happening.

It seems Statesman staffers would be among the first to recognize a public information officer's value because most every day reporters ask for data, interviews, reports, updates, responses to issues and other information.

The Statesman so often calls for more transparency in government. Yet when someone is hired to actually help with that, the Statesman seems to consider that an obstruction.

We, and so many other agencies, created the single point of contact because the public - and members of the media - asked for that.

I can't speak for other government entities, but I can share the perspective of public safety agencies. We generate a lot of media stories and public interest. The nature of those incidents often make it difficult for the men and women managing the emergency to respond to the sometimes relentless media requests - like in the middle of the DiMaggio manhunt that was pictured on the front page along with this article.

It is during those times when the media is most demanding and when we need our first responders managing the emergency rather than responding to media requests.

Public information officers help coordinate people and information so that what is shared with the community is open, accurate and timely.

Without these information officers, I would have to assign a deputy or commander to manage all the reporters and their information requests.

Part of the justification of my public information officer was to save taxpayers money. Again, I don't speak for other government agencies, but most public safety information officers I know make less money than a law enforcement officer or firefighter, so not only is it better information, it is more responsible to taxpayers that there is someone trained in effective communication coordinating that.

Public information officers are the same people responsible for delivering proactive crime prevention programs, community education, neighborhood watch events, school demonstrations - all designed to help the public directly.

Members of our community want to know about crime, sex offenders, street blockages and many other things that happen every day in their neighborhoods. They also want that information in a swift and accurate manner - and can't rely on traditional media and their steadily shrinking newsrooms to provide that service.

They want that information from a trusted source. Our public information officers provide that as quickly and directly as possible through our website and social media platforms, like community newsletters, Facebook and Twitter. We will soon be able to send text messages and email alerts about public safety issues directly to our citizens - all because we have professionals to respond to the dozens of requests for information every day while we keep our law enforcement officers and firefighters on the street protecting you.

Gary Raney is Ada County sheriff.

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