Writing for Media

The following resources will help guide media and communication strategies. Note that some of these are intended for novice communications professionals.

Writing for the media during a crisis requires responsiveness and credibility. It is important to move at a pace that the media and patients impacted by the event will perceive as appropriate. Although information may not complete at the time of the initial press release, it is preferable to provide as much information as possible and update it regularly as the investigation unfolds. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Start with information that can be verified.
  • Alert the media and the public that more information will come as more becomes available.

Keep the media and the public engaged even if you don’t have all the answers. Have background facts already developed and ready to share with the media before the story breaks. This will prove useful when reporters begin developing their stories for the general public.

Key Talking Points
  1. Explain how the exposure occurred and why it puts a patient at risk
    (e.g., details of the infection control lapse).
  2. Clarify the actions patients need to take if they were exposed.
  3. Provide an outline of the specific steps of the public health response (e.g., investigation, notification, licensing bureau, law enforcement).
  4. Provide a timeline of the investigation and an estimate of when patient results are expected to be communicated to the public and media.
  5. Give details on what is being done to make sure the event doesn’t happen again.
Preparing to Speak to the Media
  1. Coordinate with other involved players who may be talking with media.
    • State health department
    • Local health department
    • Healthcare facility communication staff
    • Other local healthcare providers
    • Law enforcement, if necessary
    • Licensing body within state health department, if necessary
    • Licensing body within the municipality, if necessary
  2. Share talking points with staff involved in the investigation and notification so all parties are on the same page or know what is being said; parties can then provide corrections or illustrative points that may improve your message.
Common Questions from the Media

Reporters will want immediate answers to their questions, access to subject matter experts, and visuals to support their media coverage. The more you can anticipate the needs of the media and prepare relevant informational materials, the more likely it is that you will accomplish your goals.

Following is a list of common questions from the media for injection safety press conferences. Please note that this list is not exhaustive.

Questions for Patient Notification Press Conferences
  • Who is in charge?
  • How could this have happened?
  • When did this happen?
  • Why wasn’t this prevented?
  • Has this happened in the past?
  • What can we expect?
  • When did you begin working on this?
  • Is this facility inspected?
  • What came out of the last inspection?
  • What is being done to prevent this from happening again?
  • When did the health dept. find out?
  • Who is affected?
  • How many patients became infected?
  • How are those who were infected getting help?
  • Who is paying for testing and treatments?
  • What is the facility/state doing to fix the situation?
  • What bad things aren’t you telling us?
  • Will the facility close? Why or why not?
  • What should we do?
  • Who is involved in the investigation?
  • What else can go wrong?
  • Will the healthcare personnel responsible be suspended or lose their license?
  • Why was there a delay in notifying the public?
  • Press statements are usually shorter than press releases. During a patient notification, they may be used to direct patients to testing or alert media to new findings in the investigation.
  • Press statements are normally only a few paragraphs long and do not include quotes. Press releases are about one page long and include quotes or opinions for context.
  • Press statements or releases can be used to offer encouragement to victims, responders, and employees.
  • Both documents should be placed together on the media or news section of the responsible organization’s website.
  • Both documents must include a contact number from the press office.
Media Factsheets/Backgrounders

Prepare fact sheets and backgrounders in advance. Factsheets are usually written in a logical progression from the broad to the specific. Backgrounders typically provide historical information. Both are used as sources of information by the media. These should be attached to a one-page press release. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can serve as both factsheets and backgrounders. A few tips for fact sheets or backgrounders:

  • Define any scientific or technical terms that are used.
  • Avoid including changeable/dynamic/evolving information in factsheets and backgrounders.
  • Don’t include quotes from officials or experts.