Working with the Media

Setting Ground Rules

In the very beginning, media interest is likely to be both intense and intimidating. Therefore, it's important for you to establish ground rules as to where and how often you or your spokesperson will meet with the media. The following tips can help.

Schedule specific times and locations so reporters know when and where they will be able to ask questions and obtain information. Remember that you control the situation -- the media do not control you.

Choose a location that is convenient for you but that allows the media the space they need to cover the story. For example, you may feel most comfortable holding interviews either outside your house or inside one room. That way, you can allow the media to glimpse your child's personal life without letting them become too invasive.

Don't open up your home to the media without restrictions or limitations. If you do, you will lose all privacy, and the presence of reporters could interfere with officers working at the scene.

Don't feel that you are personally obligated to provide all interviews or to participate in all media events. Ask law enforcement, your family spokesperson, and other family members to help.

Remember that you have the ability to set limits in terms of timing, scheduling, and making rules concerning the use of pictures of your other children. Be sure that the media are aware of your rules and that you expect them to be followed.

Key Points

1. The media should be contacted immediately after your child's disappearance by law enforcement -- because media publicity is the best way to generate leads from the public. Time is of the essence.

2. If your law enforcement agency is reluctant to involve the media in an active criminal investigation, work closely with your primary contact to convince the agency that media attention has led to the successful recovery of more than one missing child.

3. Prepare a package to give to all representatives of the media that includes a complete description of your child and of the clothing he or she was wearing at the time of the disappearance, a description of the place where your child was last seen, a phone number for people to call with leads, details of the reward (if one is being offered), and black-and-white and color photos.

4. Your pleas for help will be most effective if you personally speak to the media on your child's behalf, but if you cannot do that, ask someone you trust to stand beside you and step in if necessary or to be your spokesperson.

5. Schedule interviews and press conferences around media deadlines, and consult the Associated Press day book to help you avoid scheduling press conferences that conflict with an important news event.

6. Devise "media hooks," such as candlelight vigils or birthday celebrations, to keep your child's story in front of the public. Parcel out new developments in the case in separate announcements to spread coverage over a longer period of time.

7. The media, especially local radio stations, can be an effective tool in asking for help.

8. Be aware that you have become a public person and that the media may turn up at any time and any place to ask questions or to capture your activities on film. Although being in the spotlight might feel intrusive, such attention means that people are interested in learning more about your case.

9. If you suspect that your child has been abducted, ask NCMEC or law enforcement to contact America's Most Wanted on your behalf.

10. If your child is returned, don't jeopardize identification of the perpetrator by allowing your child to review tapes of the suspect.

Source:  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Report:  When Your Child is Missing