b'PRThose schools could afford to be more assertive when itThose schools that pushed back when approached often came to dealing with journalists attempts to draw themfared better: the journalists frequently moved on to the into the story. They needed to guard against givingnext target. Media organisations in-house lawyers are on-the-record quotes for publication when they simplywell aware of the dangers in circumstances like these, and didnt need to. closely supervise and advise on the stories produced. Not being in the frontline meant they did not needThis means you can challenge them to prove the accuracy to be so proactive with stakeholders, although it isof the allegations, pushing back on a not for publication important to acknowledge the issue is genuine in anyor broadcast basis, asking for more information to enable discussions with pupils, parents and alumni. you to have a proper opportunity to reply.When considering stakeholders, dont forget theYou might also consider offering quotes on certain campaigners themselves. Most schools take the viewconditionsfor example, explaining you currently have that it is important to engage with them, but there areno evidence on the veracity of the claims being made, issues to bear in mind. Campaigners tend to be socialbut you will provide a statement the journalist can use media savvy, and have proved adept at cultivating alliesif they are confident the material is genuine. This gives in the mainstream media. Anything you say may find itsa reporter pause, and places the onus on them to justify way into the public domain. their approach.And perhaps, more worryingly, campaigners areBroadcast journalists also favoured a round-robin inexperienced at handling sensitive informationapproach, speculatively asking many schools and the safeguarding framework. This means theysimultaneously for co-operation with television projects may make inappropriate disclosures or may evenon the basis that the schools would get to highlight the inadvertently break the law. positive work they are doing in this area. When to be assertive Such approaches are best ignored. Responding positively It is perfectly legitimate to push back if you think thewould be to insert the school unnecessarily into a school is being unfairly accused. Chat on unregulatednegative news story over which it had no control. social media sites is ephemeral and not as trusted as professional outlets, so the real focus for effortsConclusionto contain the story should be on journalists in theMany schools instinctively responded well to the mainstream media. That is because prospective parentscommunication challenges arising from the EI stories. researching schools can certainly be swayed by whatBut for anyone struggling with how to respond to such they read in the Telegraph, Times and Guardian onlinematters, the following steps may help: assess your real and the digital footprint of those titles coverage couldexposure to the story before committing to any public last a long time. It is important, therefore, to get yourresponse. What does a proportionate response look response right, first time.like? The facts of your schools situation are unique. So your It helps that journalists are regulated entities. Howeverresponse should be bespoke. Dont just follow the lead assertive they are when approaching you for comment,of whoever you think has handled things well: they are they cant just copy and paste information fromresponding to something different. unregulated websites.Aim to turn the story from something public into an internal communication as soon as possible. This For instance, the huge number of testimonies posted bymay mean engaging with campaigners: but beware of EI posed a serious practical problem for them. The storypotential pitfalls. concerns young people, serious allegations, unprovenBe assertive with mainstream media journalists. Many allegations, and information that may have beenschools avoided all publicity about the matter by gathered in an unprofessional and questionable way.simply making the journalists work a bit harder. Journalists republishing this material have to take fullIf after the story is published your online reputation responsibility for it. is blighted, do not despair. While it is a specialist area, steps can be taken to improve this relatively quickly. Many chose to trawl the schools mentioned, asking them for comment. The snare is that providing aTim Toulmin is managing director and statement effectively gives permission to the journalistAnthony Longden is a specialist partner of to report the schools involvement, allowing them toAlder. Tim and Anthony can be contacted via write a safe story balancing an allegation against a response. www.alder-uk.com.16 www.independentinsight.netIwww.iexcellence.co.ukIwww.i25awards.co.uk'