Sleeping police story shows everyone can be a reporter

You have probably seen by now the pictures of two police officers fast asleep in their patrol car while on duty.

The photographs, reportedly taken in the early hours of New Year’s Day, also appear to show the car being illegally parked and have been published alongside quotes from witnesses reporting how they tried, and failed, to wake the PCs.

The story has provided us with some amusing headlines, including ‘Zzz Cars’ and ‘the real sleeping policemen’. But it also acts as a timely reminder that thanks to modern technology everybody has the potential to be a journalist.

The actions of these tired bobbies may have gone unreported just a few years ago, but with virtually everyone now having a phone which can take good quality images and access to the internet, the public play a greater role in reporting and disseminating the news than ever before.

Whether images and videos are posted on social media first or given directly to the mainstream media, the impact is the same – the media is able to report on stories it may not have otherwise been able to cover.

This is great for the media, enabling them to broaden their coverage and make stories more interactive without leaving the office.

But it is also fraught with danger for companies and organisations and their media teams.

In this particularly incident, the Metropolitan Police spokesperson thanked the media for ‘bringing the matter to our attention’. It is doubtful the media team felt particularly thankful when the story first broke.

And it is not just the police on the front line who are vulnerable. Whether it is a CEO making an impromptu or misguided passing remark, the start of a crisis, or members of your team asleep on the job, the news is likely to be reported by a member of public before it reaches the traditional media.

This means that comms teams need to respond to issues more quickly than ever before and on issues that may previously have not made the news.

While it is virtually impossible to account for all the eventualities that could cause a member of the public to start reporting negatively about your organisation, there are some steps you can take to reduce the impact.


1 Have effective monitoring systems in place

Knowing what is being said about you in social media can enable you to spot a problem before it develops into a major issue. If you spot it early enough you may be able to take the issue ‘offline’ before it spreads. If not, you will at least be on the front foot if the story is picked up by traditional media.

2 Have lines to take in place

Your initial response in a crisis situation does not need to be detailed. If you take another look at the response provided by The Met you will see that it appears very generic. So you can prepare lines to take that can cover a number of circumstances. Also, some crises will be planned – for example redundancies or a merger – and in these cases you can have detailed statements in place should the story break on social media through a disgruntled employee.


3 Know who your spokespeople are

If traditional media interest develops in a story reported by a citizen journalist you are likely to need a spokesperson to face the cameras and microphones. Make sure you know who your spokespeople are for different situations and ensure they have recently had recent media training.


4 Establish a notification system

In a crisis you need to be able to get hold of key people urgently. So make sure you have a list of all the relevant contacts and the best way to get hold of them. Remember, bad news on social media travels faster and more widely than ever before, so the quicker you have your crisis team in place the better.




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