Your message has impact

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Imagine my surprise, when I scrolled down a computer screen through an online newspaper looking for my "three seconds of fame," just to find out one of my quotes was completely taken out of context. My jaw dropped. I thought I gathered the facts and crafted a thorough, direct response for the news reporter. I quickly learned how the media can turn an intended message on its head.

I was the official Air Force spokesperson in a news report, and although my published comments on explosive ordnances were not excessively misconstrued, I was lucky they didn't ruin the credibly of the base's explosive ordnance disposal experts. A few short rearranged words can take on a completely different read. This is something every Airman should take into consideration when asked to speak to the media or while sharing their military story to the public.

With the wide variety of multi-cultural events here, such as the upcoming American Day in Misawa City, or year-long festivals celebrated in Japan, there is high probability local media may be on the prowl looking for their next big scoop.

Although it may seem easy to answer a few questions, once the glare from a video camera light shines and a microphone is present, enthusiasm can quickly turn into a nerve-wrecking experience.

Every question a reporter asks offers an opportunity to tell the Air Force story, but many times reporters don't have all the facts. Service members can provide this information, but should remember to stick to what they know.

Where there is news, media will be there probing, but service members and their families don't need to handle this situation on their own. Public affairs representatives are here to help. By having an open working relationship with the media, they can enhance public trust and support and help positively influence public opinion.

Sometimes media may want answers to hard questions, but with good planning of anticipated questions and guidance from public affairs, they can be answered without hesitancy. Even in a tough situation, service members can go beyond the question asked and weave positive points in their response, reconnecting the reporter to a noteworthy topic.

For example, an Airman may want to talk about why he volunteered in a community service project. If the reporter begins to steer the topic toward an off-base accident, the interviewee should answer to the best of his knowledge and revert back to the topic of volunteering.

When approached by media, a few basic principles can help service members answer their questions clearly, while conveying a positive message to the public. A good message should be short, memorable and relevant to the topic at hand - not something completely unrelated.

If a question pertains to a service member's involvement in a community event, he should not speak on behalf of someone else, speculate or speak about anything that doesn't directly encompass his participation there. Instead of lying to avoid answering a question, it is okay to tell the media, "I don't know," but never say, "no comment." To the public, "no comment" means there is something to hide.

There may be certain instances where a response would otherwise include sensitive mission-related information. Divulging critical facts about friendly intentions, capabilities, and base activities may breach base security and threaten the mission.

Public affairs can help ensure sure this doesn't happen.

Also, remember a news reporter may phrase a question methodically to get an answer they want. Even though they may seek a positive or negative answer, if service members repeat a negatively stated question, they may set themselves up for their answer to be taken out of context.

It's important to correct and clear the record so messages aren't misinterpreted. An interviewee should consider everything they say in front of the media as an opportunity to be quoted - there is no such thing as "off the record." And as I learned, a spokesperson should never say anything they wouldn't want printed.

When it comes to religious beliefs, political views and preferences or opinions, service members should avoid these topics all together. Sometimes it's hard for the media to determine whether the views are personal or from the military's perspective. Most importantly, remember that while in and out of uniform, service members and their families represent the military. While in Japan, they also represent the United States.

Until the World Wide Web crashes, which is likely never going to happen any time soon, my quotes will remain out there for the world to see. Service members shouldn't be afraid to talk to the media, when they have public affairs folks to consult first. Call 226-3075 for questions and concerns or the command post at 226-9899 for an on-call PA representative.