Your story is not necessarily the media’s story

The new 'New York' style Victoria Police uniforms

Sometimes the story you want to tell isn’t the same as the story the media want to pursue. This was earlier this week when Victoria Police’s Acting Deputy Commissioner, Lucinda Nolan was interviewed about changes to the Force’s uniform.

Nolan was speaking with Jon Faine, the sometime cantankerous host of ABC 774’s morning program, about the new uniforms Victoria Police had paraded down the catwalk the day before. Unfortunately, the interview didn’t make it onto 774’s website or the daily edited highlights podcast, so I can’t link to it. What I’m sure the Acting Deputy Commissioner thought was going to be a relatively benign interview about the increased functionality and practicality of the uniforms was anything but.

Coverage that morning of the new design compared the dark navy colour to the uniforms to that of New York police. Faine too made mention of similarity in his introduction, but went further to frame the uniform’s new tone as “aggressive” – something I can only assume was an editorial decision on his end as I can’t find any similar sentiment mentioned in the other coverage. Nolan started off well, stating she hadn’t heard the description of aggressive anywhere else. However, this was to be the main thrust of the questions and no amount of talk about increased functionality was going to shift it. This was not to be the story Victoria Police wanted.

Nolan stuck closely to the script, repeating her statements from the previous days media release almost verbatim, extolling the virtues of increased functionality, high-tech breathable fabrics and standardisation. All to no avail.

Faine pressed the point, enquiring what community consultation had been done. This was where the wheels started to come off. It’s unlikely to be the Acting Deputy Commissioner’s fault. As the convoluted title suggests, there’s more than a bit of shuffling going on at the top of the Force following the standing down of both the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner amidst an OPI investigation that’s captivated Melbourne’s attention for the last week or so. It’s unlikely that until last week Nolan had any knowledge or involvement in the uniforms. But somebody did and that person should have fully briefed the Acting Deputy Commissioner on all the details. The result was a series of vague half answers to questions that should have been easily swatted away.

What followed was a stream of talkback call and SMS on the issue, debating whether police were too aggressive. Hardly the story Victoria Police would have wanted.

This certainly wasn’t a huge loss for Victoria Police. Indeed, it’s hardly serious and will have been forgotten by now. But it does illustrate nicely the need to consider more than just the key messages when briefing a spokesperson for an interview. That person needs to be an authority that can comment not just the story you’re trying to present, but the one the media is intent on pursuing.

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