Once upon a time early in my journalism career, I had the opportunity to take part in a mock disaster in southwest Nebraska. It was a training exercise for a rural fire department and there were several victims and agencies involved.
The lead organizer of the training exercise asked me to be a very nosy newspaper reporter and went so far as to say I could act like a real jerk. He told me, for example, to try to get into places that were roped off as a way to test those who were working the scene.
So I did, and I actually exposed some weaknesses that those folks had with keeping an eye on the media. I actually made my way past a barrier, climbed aboard a school bus and started interviewing "victims" from the fire and explosion.
At the end of the day, there was a tabletop discussion and I was able to report where I had been at the scene of the fire. It was actually a lot of fun.
While interviewing Wendy McIlroy this morning at the search-and-rescue dog mock mission in Philomath, I had to ask about how they handle aggressive media in real-life situations.
"On most SAR missions, we have one person who's designated as a person who talks to the media, so it's not everybody busy doing stuff," she said. "One person is the liaison to the media and that person will release whatever the sheriff allows."
And she's exactly right. That's the status quo among these types of real-life events. A public information officer or someone with a similar title will tell the media where they can and can't be, handle interview requests, distribute press releases and inform reporters about when statements will be made or news conferences will be arranged.
McIlroy has seen aggressive media. On one operation that drew a lot of attention, she said "there were people with distance microphones. You couldn't even talk because you didn't know if somebody over there had the directional thing pointed at you. I didn't think I'd ever have to worry about something like that."