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Guest MINDSETTER™ Dr. Julie Frechette: Digital Media Era Needs Transparency from Police

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Never before has it been more important for police to build trust with their local constituents than today.  In the post-Ferguson digital media era, the stakes are especially high, as there has been national scrutiny over the tensions between police and the public.  There is an interesting conflict of interest taking place.  While members of the public—including city officials and journalists— are seeking more transparency and porosity between the police and the communities they serve, some police departments are barricading themselves from local journalists and the public for fear of a public opinion backlash.  Yet the only way that trust can be earned or restored is through open communication. 

Let’s face it.  Trust in the police is at an all time low in America because of the recent media coverage of “bad cops” who enact violence on citizens.   While this concern is both real and tragic, it’s also the case that increased use of social media has led to speculative and subjective stories that increase tension among communities.  In light of this, police leaders need to work with news media to reach the public in a way that enables them to communicate effectively in good times, and not just in times of crisis.   It also means that they will need to earn trust from members of the public by being proactive through social media. 

I teach graduate courses in Social Media Marketing and Communication at Clark University, and a few semesters ago, I had the PR director from the Sheriff’s office take the course with tremendous success.  Why?  She and her supervisor, Sherriff Lew Evangelidis, understood that the key to building trust is to share news and information with the public. 

In the Digital Age, a lot of people get their news and information from news websites and social media.  Police leaders who want to establish credibility and integrity cannot afford to ignore these channels if they want to succeed.   Organizations and PR departments used to worry about TV news channels providing constant news 24 hours a day.  Now members of the public can potentially be the ones to break news stories and events all the time while offering their own photos, videos and anecdotes. 

So should police leaders fear this change?  Absolutely not.  The Digital Age brings challenges and opportunities for police leaders to develop an effective working relationship with local media and the public.  The goal is to embrace the media and the groundswell, and learn how to use the media effectively.  As with our interpersonal relations that require us to be honest, open, and transparent, so is the growing trend with social media whereby the public won’t settle for anything less than transparency and the truth.  The most precious assets for police are their connections with members of the public they serve.  That means opening up lines of communication by working with local media and key community groups.

Julie Frechette is a professor of media in the communication department at Worcester State University.  She teaches graduate courses on social media and media relations at Clark University.  She is co-author of the book Media In Society (2014, Bedford St. Martin Press).



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