From America's Most Wanted to Sandy Hook and many more before and since, Robert Goulston has reported on many important stories. He shares why it's crucial to build relationships on both sides of the fence and explains how you, as a PIO, can really land your story and work side by side with your local reporters.

What is important to you about working local news?

Accuracy is the most important element in any news story. Without accuracy, you lose trust with your viewers and the story won't be relevant. Strong relationships with the people and agencies you are covering helps avoid miscommunication that might lead to an inaccurate story. 

Why broadcast instead of print journalism?

Every medium of journalism is vital in society and the consumer should use every medium. I find broadcast journalism both wide-ranging and urgent. I was first intrigued with broadcast journalism watching storm coverage in Washington, DC. The reporters were engaging the community while they were dealing with a major storm. The information was immediate and visual.

As a New England native, do you think that reporting on where you come from makes you have more of an interest in what’s going on?

I've reported in several areas of the country and in different market sizes. I don't think your connection to the area necessarily helps you generate more interest. I think a true journalist finds everything interesting and wants to better understand it. Beware of the journalists who don't.

You started out on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ - what was it about this role that made you want to be a reporter?

One of my favorite moments at America's Most Wanted is when I made the call to a woman who trusted me to tell her story about the search for her Dad's killer. She kept pitching the story to me but because the police had little to go on and the case was so old my producers were concerned the show would not be able to help. But we brainstormed and came up with a way to tell the story. She was so committed to telling the story that the show decided to connect her with the cold case unit in the town where her Dad was killed. We did a whole segment on the process of her and the cold case detective going back into the case file and digging up old clues. America's Most Wanted did the re-enactment and decades after her Dad was murdered a tipster came forward.  The tipster was the the wife of the man who ended up being the man convicted of killing her father. That call to let the woman know there was an arrest inspires me to pursue every story. 

You were first on scene at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 which meant you were being broadcast nationally. What did you learn from this experience and how did it shape your approach to reporting?

Being one of the first on scene at Sandy Hook meant seeing so much raw information and feeling the pressure to turn it into reportable information. I met the Newtown town manager that day and she quickly became a trusted source. She helped me understand the magnitude of the story and just how impactful it would be to her community, the country and the world.

The town manager was appreciative when I checked in with her regularly as we learned information. She would help me confirm and deny information with

the police chief and other investigators. In essence, she was Newtown's PIO. To this day, I check in her even though she has retired and moved on. It is a relationship I cherish as she was committed to communicating accurate information to her community and she trusted me to do it.

Great public information officers know how to sell the impact.

What’s more likely to get you interested in a pitch from a PIO?

Great public information officers know how to sell the impact. PIOs know their

community better than anybody and when they relay that in a story pitch it helps reporters relay the relevance to their producers so it will get covered. News is what happens but the story is how it impacts people.

What type of stories really interest you on a personal and professional level?

I am truly committed to general assignment reporting. I love how news is something people seek out and there are vast possibilities of how that particular news can turn into a story. A simple example: when it snows out people can't stop watching. The ratings go through the roof. These are opportunities to help viewers connect with their surroundings by showing them how beautiful it is, how dangerous it can be, and how they can be best prepared for its impact. A more somber example: an awful tragedy is something a good journalist can present in a way that helps the community learn how to prevent its reoccurrence.

What would you say to PIOs who are concerned about the challenging aspects of working with broadcast media?

My biggest piece of advice is never say "no comment". It is exactly what any public information officer should never lean on. Great PIOs explain why they can't share information. That is what viewers want to know. For example," we can't share the victims name because we want to tell the family first". No reporter in their right mind would question that. Explaining a procedure and why that procedure makes it difficult right now to release certain information is part of the story.

If you could ask any favor of PIOs what would it be?

Call us and say hi. Keep the connection going even if you don't have a pressing story. We want to work with you.

Try to envision the story you want to share and pitch those elements to the reporter. Journalists can help PIOs connect with the public.

Misinformation is a real challenge for everyone. What do you do to counteract this and are there any tips you have for source checking for PIOs?

The gold standard for vetting information is to get multiple sources and to find out specifically where a piece of information was learned.

What would you suggest as the best things to put in your ideal news package if a PIO wants to put something together for you?

Try to envision the story you want to share and pitch those elements to the reporter. Journalists can help PIOs connect with the public.

There is usually a clear difference between someone who is great to interview and someone who isn’t too prepared. What are the skills that you value in an interviewee?

Focus on being conversational. It is a skill most reporters spend their entire career trying to master. A conversational style makes whatever you are trying to relay to the public much easier to comprehend.

Being a reporter is stressful, unpredictable and at times, traumatic. How do you take care of your wellbeing?

Even though reporting has exposed me to some dark stories, my role allows me to inform people and try to improve society. I find meaning in my work. You can probably tell how much I value relationships from some of my other answers; having strong relationships with friends, family, and colleagues gives me a strong support system.

Do you have any unfulfilled journalistic ambitions?

Covering the next big story that helps someone learn, grow, or stay safe.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter

November 22, 2021
PIO People

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