On December 1st of 2013, 63 amazing women smashed the former world record for the largest head down formation ever recorded. Despite having beautiful women and amazing footage, the media presence was minimal. Four days later, the worst possible scenario occurred - a double fatality and a serious injury all on the same jump during formation skydive big ways. Suddenly, the media was camped out in full force in the parking lot at Skydive Arizona.
The media’s role is to cover newsworthy events, but what is ‘newsworthy’ is open for interpretation. The news is skewed because of the pursuit of ratings. High ratings equates to more advertising dollars equating to more profitability. Senstationalism and shock sells and it’s these stories that the media are after. Reporters are looking to scoop the competition and will often go to great lengths to dig up more information that others have not uncovered.
When a crisis occurs, DZ operators are forced to temporarily shelve emotions to focus on the task at hand. Notifying families, working with a barrage of media requests, the FAA, the authorities, the coroner and trying to stay ahead of the story are difficult especially without a pre-determined plan of how to handle it all.
The hardest challenge for DZO’s is educating the media without providing terminology that is open for interpretation by non-skydivers and the hungry media.
A great example of this is the 16 year old girl who survived after spiraling into the ground in Oklahoma several weeks ago. She had a canopy above her head and by the sounds of things, failed to cut it away. To sensationalize the story, the media’s headines portray something far different.
All of the above headlines give the indication that this young lady plummeted from 3,000 feet without a canopy and miraculously survived. Anyone in our industry knows this is not possible. The truth is blurred in order to increase click rates on news sites in order to show advertisers the volume of traffic on its website.
The media is shrewd and being prepared to deal with them requires a strategy of how to handle the scrutiny on your operation when things go wrong.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE MEDIA DURING A CRISIS
1. The Media Will Write
The media will write about the incident with or without your input to the story. Your response to the media is important, but must be measured and carefully written in a press release sticking to the facts. Without input, the media may run a story with gross misinformation as we see in the news all of the time. Question: Can you afford for a story to be released without your input?
2. The Phone Will Ring
Once the story breaks, the phone will ring continuously. Rather than ignore phone calls, have a dedicated person answer the phone and take contact information from the media. No statements should be given by anyone. Any response to the media should be calculated. Once a press release is created, sending it to the inquiring outlets is appropriate ensuring that every journalist has the same facts and information.
3. Too Many Sources Gives a Story Legs
Too many people giving opinions or facts to multiple media outlets will help a story spread. Reporters will be asking anyone who knows anything for contributions. DZ’s should try to control the output of information as much as possible. Be sure that staff members do not speak to the press.
4. The Media Does Not Care. This is a Story
There are some very nice reporters out there, but remember their job is to cover a story. Do not let a reporter lull you into giving information about the victim or details about their skydiving (details of being a CRW pilot or canopy pilot). This only adds to assumptions to made by the press after the interview.
5. The Newswire
When the story is picked up by the AP Newswire, it will transform from local to national and possibly international very quickly. Be sure to have Google Alerts switched on for your business to be able to track the story as it spreads. This will allow you to stay on top of the story should facts start to change.
12 GUIDELINES TO ADOPT DURING A CRISIS
1. Identify one person to work with the media exclusively.This ensures one consistent story presented to all media outlets. Your goal is to make this an open and shut story in the media without adding fuel. The individual handling the press should not give any verbal quotes, but issue a press release to all members of the media further ensuring one consistent message.
2. Never lie to the media. Ever.
3. Do not rush a response to the media. Take your time to assess the situation. If the media contacts you, get their information and give them a time to expect a press release from you. This is better than a ‘No Comment’ statement. No comment is often construed as guilt or negligence. While it is important to not rush, it is important to provide a press release before deadlines are required by editors.
4. Prepare a press release with basic information and use it as the only communication piece with the media.
5. The media will show up at the DZ and assuredly take video / photos of the sign at the entrance. Request that all staff and experienced skydivers not speak with the media. Give media who show up your prepared press release.
6. Keep detailed information that can be misinterpreted out of the press release. Never release the name of the victim. In the case of a fatality, the coroner will eventually release the name. This should not come from the DZ.
7. Inform the FAA of the incident even if it had nothing to do with the aircraft. If the FAA reads about it, they will contact you. Establish good communications with the FAA during any incident. Some disagree with this, but being proactive and having an open communication with the FAA is a good idea.
8. Be in communication with the victim’s family immediately after the incident. Follow-up with the family a few days after the incident. Always keep details at a minimum, as families may elect to file a lawsuit later. There is a fine line to being empathetic and caring and not opening a DZ to liability regardless of waiver forms signed. Every incident is unique and different. Discretion is required.
9. Hold on to the person’s gear and keep it under lock and key. The FAA may wish to view the gear with a rigger. The family may request the gear or often friends of the jumper may try to take it; no gear should be released until authorities are satisfied with their individual investigations. Be sure your rigger is on hand when the authorities wish to inspect it as they won’t know what they’re looking at.
10. Ensure any and all video footage is placed under lock and key to be viewed only by the authorities that need to see it.
11. Have your Master Rigger inspect the gear and write a report the day after the incident. Photos of the gear should be taken during the inspection.
12. Have your S&TA submit a detailed report to the USPA.
13. The USPA provides excellent facts about the safety of the sport. Providing this information is recommended to give perspective on safety.
I. Press Releases. Begin preparing a press release shortly after an incident. The above example is short and to the point devoid of any details that could be misconstrued. If you’re uncertain of how to write a press release click on these links to learn the form and structure. For most companies press releases are prepared to announce something new about the company which will also be helpful to bringing free press to the DZ when you have unique stories like multi-generations of family jumping together or anyone jumping over the age of 80.
Press Release Tips from the Huffington Post | PRLog - How to Write a Press Release
II. Keep it Simple. Providing advanced terminology or skydiving jargon opens up a story for interpretation. Notice in the above example, that the term ‘swooping’ is omitted to prevent the media pulling YouTube videos of swooping as there are many dangerous representations of it. The term ‘advanced landing maneuver’ is used.
III. Message. Decide one message you need to get across. As in the example above, the message is to clearly show that the parachute was full deployed. Basic details are given in order to minimize speculation.
IV. No Verbal Interviews. Send the written press-release to the media outlets that request interviews. Media will try to get you to make a quote…and you will be tempted to answer. Don’t do it! Stick to the press release for consistency of the message.