What Bad Press Means for a Government Agency

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The saying goes that all publicity is good publicity. That may be true for authors, Broadway show producers and musicians, but for government agencies, bad publicity is never a good thing. Entertainers need their names in the public space to make money, so while they may be ticked off at a bad story, they realize that it is ultimately for their good that their names are in print.

Unless a government agency is undertaking a public awareness campaign, government executives like to keep their organizations out of the news.

Smokey the Bear keeps the US Forest Service in the public’s eye, but organizations like the Government Accountability Office and General Service Administration like to keep a low profile most of the time.

Bad press is one of the signs that your government agency is in trouble.

Unfavorable Public Opinion

The media serves the public at large, so when the media gets hold of a story that portrays a government agency in a bad light, the media is impacting public opinion. While informed citizens know to be skeptical of what the media produces, some people blindly follow what their favorite news anchors, bloggers or talk radio personalities say.

How much of an impact a media outlet can have on public opinion depends on the number of people the outlet can reach and the characteristics of that audience.

Unfavorable Attention from Legislators

Bad press leads Legislators – whether state, federal or local -- to start asking questions.

These individuals are held accountable by the public through elections, so they need to keep abreast of how their constituents are thinking and feeling.

When an unfavorable story hits, legislators want to have the same information that the media has. In fact, they tend to want more, especially if the story catches them by surprise.

For instance, a city’s police chief is fired for stealing from the city. This will cause uproar in the media. A prudent city manager will alert city council members about the situation before the story breaks, but even then, the members will want more information than what has been released to the media.

If a story is bad enough, state and federal legislators will summon agency leaders to committee hearings. These hearings are designed to bring the truth to the public and to show the public that their elected officials are addressing the situation.

More Bad Press

Bad press leads to more bad press. Once the media gets hold of a particularly juicy story, they bleed every drop of ink they can from it. To keep the story fresh, reporters write follow-up stories where they rehash what they have already written and add a few pieces of new information. They will not let go of a story until one of two things happen – the public loses interest or they have unearthed every detail they think they can get.