Fire Prevention & Protection


Using the many digital media options available today, Dave Statter said, “your department can and should be a trusted and valued source of information for the people it serves.” Dave Statter said at Thursday’s class, “The PIO Reporter: Telling Your Story in a World Where “Spin” Doesn’t Work.

“ ‘Spin’ ” is dead—it was killed by digital age,” “Today, who’s a reporter? Statter asked. “Anyone with a smartphone.” So equipped, they can send pictures and video around the world instantly, making it almost impossible for public officials to keep the lid on potentially embarrassing news.

Those who still believe spinning and covering up are the answer do so at their own peril in the digital age. What you don’t release, someone else likely will and that bad news will travel at the speed of light not just to your community, but around the world. Your credibility is at stake.

In dealing with the public, honesty is the best policy. Organizations must build up “reputation equity,” i.e., the credibility that comes from being a valued, trusted information resource. This can help your department in times of embarrassing or negative news involving members. Web sites, blogs, YouTube, and other digital media options are already used by some departments to get their information out to the public.

Your stakeholders—department personnel, the mayor and council, the general public, and community leaders—also deserve openness and honesty. In Detroit for example, two top fire officials resigned when internal department problems came to light. They had been aware of the problems, but failed to inform the mayor.

Your department should have a plan on how to get past the bad news involving its members and restore its reputation. The longer the department delays openly confronting a negative or embarrassing issue, the longer the story lingers, and damages the organization’s reputation. Getting your information out as soon as possible allows you to frame an issue instead of someone else and builds up your reputation equity.

Operator of the fire service Web site STATter, Dave Statter consults with public safety agencies on communications and media issues.