One thing that saved Family Youth Interventions from greater public misunderstanding was their long-established relationship with local media, specifically the Detroit Free Press. In a situation like theirs—which quickly escalated into a public disagreement with the Sheriff about the proper response to runaway youth—it helped to have reporters who knew how seriously the FYI staff took their work and their youths’ safety. “There’s a reporter there who knows to contact us when writing about the area’s runaway population,” claims Baarck, and that trust carried over to the coverage of this delicate situation.
Moreover, your program can approach an unexpected media crisis as an opportunity to publicly share the work you do. Baarck, acknowledging that most nonprofit agencies lack a means of mass communication, says that “any time the media wants to talk with you, it can be a good thing. We took the opportunity to tell our local media and police what exactly we do. And we got quite a bit of support from the community. People came out of nowhere, saying, ‘We had no idea that you were doing that kind of work.’”
Few programs would choose to be thrust into the media spotlight during a moment of such turmoil, but with preparation, you can spring into action with a plan—and maybe even turn a moment of crisis into a moment to shine. By showcasing your organization’s competence and core mission, you can publicly assert your program’s strength and commitment to helping local youth.
This is a great article about how a runaway shelter dealt with a situation involving the sheriff, a runaway and the media. I’m sure your first thought when reading that sentence is that’s a recipe for disaster, but they handled it with aplomb.
The reason /why/ they were able to is the cool part. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Based almost solely on their relationship with a local reporter, they were able to clarify the situation in the print media the first time. It really would’ve been impressive if everyone knew what the agency’s role was beforehand, but one reporter is better than none. Especially when your “internal” disagreement is with the police.