What Good Press Means for a Government Agency

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In a modern news cycle that feeds on gossip, rumor, innuendo and scandal, news stories depicting government organizations in a positive light are often drowned out by the salacious reports that slowly develop over time as juicy detail after juicy detail adds to the overall storyline. At times, stories come out each day as one new detail emerges. 

Compared to the scandalous stories, positive stories are just plain boring.

Which sounds more likely to be the lead story on the evening newscast in a major metropolitan city: a mayor resigns amid suspicion of fraud or a police department steps up enforcement in a neighborhood at the request of residents? The police story is nice, but it comes after the first commercial break on most nights.

Bad press gets more viewers, readers and listeners than good press. When a government agency has a positive story told about it, the agency must milk it for all it’s worth because when the tables are turned, those interested in keeping an unfavorable story alive won’t let up.

Good press is something that every government executive wants. Below are the things that good press means for a government agency.

Favorable Public Opinion

Even though bad press tends to reach more people, positive stories can enhance people’s perceptions of the agency. Bad press can decimate favorable public opinion, so it is nice for government agencies to have some good will built up.

The good thing for government employees is that they simply need to do their jobs well. Media issues are outside their control. Agency executives and public information officers are tasked with drumming up good stories and responding to bad ones.

Favorable public opinion can gain supporters for the agency.

Those individuals can be powerful when it comes to lobbying lawmakers and expressing their opinions in arenas that influence other citizens.

Benefit of the Doubt

When positive stories are told about an agency, elected officials tend to give that agency the benefit of the doubt. Agency executives realize this benefit most when it comes to funding.

Agencies that are in the news for good things will maintain their funding levels and find a more receptive ear when asking for increases. Conversely, an agency that must constantly react to bad press will find themselves needing to defend themselves against the pointed questions of lawmakers and giving more detailed explanations when asking for more money.

Benefit of the doubt is huge for agency executives. They can go into elected officials’ offices with confidence instead of anxiety. Executives are better able to frame their arguments because they do not have to first address what’s been said about the agency.

Trust from Elected Officials

Elected officials must pay attention to the agencies under their jurisdiction. Agency executives would prefer that elected officials be as hands-off as possible. When the agency is consistently in the news for the right reasons, elected officials feel more comfortable giving executives latitude to do as they see fit because of the high level of trust the elected officials place in the executives.

This often plays out in the federal government in the number of committee hearing that members of Congress hold. When agencies are in the media for the wrong reasons, members hold committee hearings to ask the executives what is going on and how is it going to be fixed. This was played out in early 2012 as the expenditures associated with the General Services Administration’s 2010 Western Regions Conference came to light.

On the flip side, agencies that do not appear to waste money or conduct themselves unprofessionally tend to be left alone as much as possible. Executives for those agencies do not get called to testify before upset Congressmen eager berate them for C-SPAN viewers to see.