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Journalist see their mission as informing everyday people and looking out for the public’s best interests. This means examining a story from all angles and asking probing questions. It is important to understand that the journalist, who is covering your story, is simply doing their job. They are operating in a highly competitive environment and are under significant pressure to get answers, get the story and tell it in the most interesting manner possible.

The process is often messy, especially when there is breaking news, a lot of details aren’t
available and the media and the public begin speculating about what might have happened and
about the possible actions and motives of the individuals involved.

Regardless of the circumstances or actions of the media, it is imperative to stay calm at all times
and work to be as diplomatic as possible. You will never win a battle in front of a camera or with
an open microphone. Always remember, the way in which you treat a journalist (or media
organization) will affect the way in which they cover you and your family today and for weeks,
months and even years to come.


The following pages include information, tips and forms for organizing and executing media and public response in a family crisis. While this is meant to provide insights and options to prepare something appropriate for your family and situation, it may seem overwhelming. We have divided response into two sections:

Simple Response:
This section provides more simple instructions for responding to incidents and issues that are local in nature and that likely will only be in the media for a day or two. Or, this may be helpful in larger crises in the case your team and their time is very limited.


Determining the right approach involves considering the situation, individuals involved, media interest/demands and the family’s objectives. If the story has some finality and is likely to have strong media/public interest for one week or less, you will likely want to consider a Simple Response. This involves communicating with the media through a press conference, interview(s), statement or social media posts.

Your communication response team will function in the roles outlined in Your Team. It is likely you will communicate 1-3 times with the media (but it could be more according to circumstances) during the days and week following the news breaking. Ideally, this will involve releasing a statement within a few hours of the news breaking and then participating in a press conference, media interview(s) or releasing information through social media (specific instructions can be found under Response by Scenario).

Advanced Response:
This section provides more instructions for organizing a team and structure to respond to larger incidents and issues that are national in nature and/or that may be in the media for several days, weeks or even months.

Often the duration of a situation is unknown and will remain influx until there is some type of resolution or media and public interest wanes. An Advanced Response model involves working to identify and institute a flexible approach that allows for the appropriate and timely communication of information. This works to balance the needs of the family and their objectives with the media interest/demands and those of Your Team.

Generally, this approach will involve providing regular updates through a press conferences/briefings, interviews, statements or social media posts. The key is determining timing and frequency. In some situations, this could be multiple times a day or it could be as infrequently as only when there are developments.

If law enforcement is involved, it is advisable to build a relationship with the PIO (public information officer) and ask them to give you a heads up on press briefings/conferences, announcements and interviews. In many cases, you may want to participate when law enforcement communicates publicly, or you can conduct your own press briefings or release your own statements or other response to coincide. 

The roles as outlined in Your Team may evolve and change as the situation progresses. The best advice is to determine an approach that will work for the family and then make the necessary adjustments over time. It also is advisable to seek out a local public relations or public affairs professionals with crisis or issues management experience. Ask them to volunteer some advice and counsel. In some cases, they may also be willing to volunteer some time to help provide assistance.

In addition to Simple and Advanced Response, we provide recommendations regarding specific response scenario (e.g. abduction, death, serious crime), and tools, including statements, that you can use to draft your own response.

Our advice is to adapt the materials that work for you. Additionally, ask others (especially public relations professionals) for help and do your best.

Simple Response
Advanced Response
Your Team - Real


The challenge of working with the media during a crisis should not fall on one person alone. In order to be effective, organize a “team” consisting of trusted family members and friends to help manage media requests and respond appropriately and in a timely fashion. 

Your media team should be tailored to the situation and the individuals available to help. It may be as large as a six-member team or as small as two (Family Spokesperson and Media Point Person). The following are suggested roles: Click on each for a detailed description.  

Family Lead:

The family lead is the primary decision maker regarding media (and often non-media issues). It is imperative for the immediate and/or extended family or group to assign this role and to agree this individual is authorized to make final decisions. The Family Lead has the following responsibilities:

  • Keeps abreast of all crisis developments

  • Establishes/enforces media protocol

  • Oversees media team

  • May or may not serve as Family Spokesperson

  • If not the spokesperson, works to provide information/prepare spokesperson

  • Refers all media inquiries to Media Point Person

  • Determines/approves strategy, appropriate information to release, timing, etc.

Family Spokesperson:
The Family Spokesperson participates in media interviews but does not arrange interviews or interacts with the media outside of interviews. It is important to determine the most appropriate Family Spokesperson, which may vary according to the situation and individuals involved. The Family Spokesperson has the following responsibilities:

  • Completes online spokesperson training

  • Represents family in interviews

  • Prepares for interviews

  • Obtains approval/feedback from Family Lead (if not the same)

Media Point Person: 
The Media Point Person fields all media requests and is available 24/7. This role should not be handled by the Family Lead or Family Spokesperson (it’s often best managed by a person somewhat removed). The Media Point Persons informs journalists that he or she is not authorized to speak on behalf of the family and that their role is solely that of managing requests and helping organize interviews. The Media Point Person has the following responsibilities:

  • Completes online media relations training

  • Serves as an intermediary with media and Family Spokesperson

  • Gathers requests without making any promises to the reporter or media outlet

  • Discuss in detail all media requests with the Family Lead and Family Spokesperson

  • Follow up with media regarding each request and helps to facilitate interviews

  • Create and maintain a log of all media contact and requests

  • Work with Family Spokesperson to correct the record when there is grossly inaccurate information

Media Monitor:

The Media Monitor should review all published and aired stories. Since media functions under a 24-hour news cycle, monitoring should be consistent and frequent. The Media Monitor has the following responsibilities:

  • Sets up Google Alerts to receive emails anytime a story is published or aired

  • Monitor all relevant news outlets and document the names of the reporters covering the story

  • Takes note of who the media are attributing, or who their sources are

  • Documents what is being reported

  • Determines if what they are reporting is accurate and if the family is accurately quoted

  • Reports immediately to Media Point Person if there is breaking news or if media stories include grossly
    inaccurate information

  • Monitors media and social media “comment” sections

  • Reports regularly to team to communicate how the story is being covered, and immediately if there are accuracy or other issues

Online Liason:

This Online Liaison, which could be combined with the Media Monitor according to expertise, manages all social media. The Online Liaison has the following responsibilities:

  • Sets up Facebook, Twitter, blog and other social media where appropriate

  • Follows/friends appropriate media, public entities, partners, etc.

  • Regularly posts content with approval of Family Lead (content may be generated from various sources)

  • Monitors postings on each social media forum

  • Responds to posts as needed and at direction of Family Lead

  • Posts/Retweets appropriately media stories

  • Forwards any online media requests to the Media Point Person

  • Reports regularly to team and immediately updates if there are issues


The runner should offer support to all members of the media team. While the responsibilities of this person should be determined on a case-by-case basis, he or she offers another set of hands to the media team to get things done. The runner’s roles could range from errands to organizing materials needed for the media or preparing a location for media interviews. The runner is not authorized to talk to the media and should refer all inquiries to the Media Point Person in accordance with the media protocol.


It is important to assign a backup Family Lead and Family Spokesperson. These individuals (should not be the Media Point Person) are authorized by the family to make decisions and/or participate in media response in the event there is a breaking news/development and the Family Lead or Family Spokesperson is not available within a set period of time, usually 30-60 minutes.  Assigning backups will help to ensure that decisions can be made and the family can respond in and effective and timely manner.    

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