From the start we were open about what we could be open about. My pastor said it best, “We are not going to walk in darkness.” When asked a question I made sure that the information I could give was accurate, even to the point to tracking down a reporter later to clarify a comment I made on cost. If I could not answer, or should not answer, I said so. When questions of security came up, I gave what I could, but for safety’s sake, I could not answer questions about how many people, etc. When questions that related to the family came up, I asked that they be directed to the family.
At the family’s request, we did not reveal anything about the service until the day of the service. I was asked about a hundred times who would speak or sing. I directed all of those questions to the family. Now, someone was talking because I started getting requests to confirm parts of the service, I still sent those to the family’s representative.
To my knowledge, I returned every single call or email we got from the media, in order, on the same day we got it. There were times I just wanted to shut the phone off. But, I know how it feels when you call someone and they don’t get back to you, so I made the calls.
We sent out 3 separate News Releases. We gave all the information we could, all that we should in those. The day of the service we had a 4 page handout of important information, from cell numbers to explanations of the service order, to basic information about the church they could use as filler. We had a tent with video and audio of the feed available. We provided donuts and water, as well as port-a-potty facilities. Doesn’t seem like much, but if you have to be in one location for several hours without access to a bathroom… I had a few people thank us for the bathrooms.
I was very frank about what members of the media could and could not do during the event. I did have to warn one crew that if they broadcast the footage they were trying to get, well, the result would be very bad for them. We had administrative assistants scanning the news channels to make sure all stations were broadcasting within the limitations we placed on them. For the most part, everyone was cooperative.
I also tried to make sure they could get their stories. While the family had requested that we not let cameras be thrust in the faces of people who attended, I also knew that every station was screaming for on camera interviews. So I allowed them to talk to anyone who was walking by and agreed to be interviewed. I did not allow them to go to the line and grab people. Now, some of that happened anyway. But it was limited, and no one in line had to have a camera pushed on them.
I tried to get answers to questions like, “How many people were here?” (1100 or so), and anything else asked. I made sure the crews could get on campus and set up before their first 5:00 AM live-on-location segments. the parking area was big enough to handle the vehicles and people. We kept the front row of spots open so crews could set up and do shots of the building and gathering crowd. Anything we could think of, we tried to prepare for.
It paid off. One guy from NBC said it was the most organized memorial service had had ever worked. I wasn’t sure exactly how to take that, but I think it was a compliment. Everyone got their story. Aside from a few moments, everyone was happy with what we could allow them to do. We got to know several of the reporters better, although they would often switch from chatting to interviewing in mid sentence, so we had to be careful with every answer.
The key was pre-planning and flexibility. We had defined the limits of what we could do, and then communicated that to the crews. I am reminded that in many ways, true freedom comes by knowing your boundaries.