What To Do When You Have A Celebrity? Strategies for Dealing With the Entertainment Media

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

As all of you know, Paris Hilton is spending some quality time at the Los Angeles County Jail for a probation violation. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer ordered Ms. Hilton reincarcerated after jail officials allowed her to spend her time on house arrest after three days in the facility.

How would you handle the throng of media descending on you and your institution if you found yourself in similar circumstances?

In my 18 years of handling media for institutional and community corrections as the Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the (federal) Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I responded to a wide variety of media requests regarding well-known offenders. Mike Tyson (on Maryland’s parole and probation caseload) produced endless calls. The “Beltway Shooters” who terrorized the Washington D.C. metro area several years ago were incarcerated in Maryland’s Super Max prison. They and many others produced a fail share of national and international media attention.

The bottom line in media relations is insuring that celebrity offenders are treated no different than any other offender. “Friends” in the media will call for the inside scoop. Relatives will ask for information. Staff will be asked to act as informants. To say that it’s challenging is an understatement.

You will hear the media report circumstances that only people directly connected to the case would know. While it’s disconcerting, it happens all the time.

Staff may talk. Most will not talk to the media, but you should anticipate that some will. Some relay experiences to friends and families who may call the media. This could produce unfounded rumors. Rumors, as we all know, have a way of snowballing wildly. What we call a standard adjustment to incarceration could be major psychotic meltdown to others.

Note that it’s not unusual for the superintendent, commissioner or warden to feed information to their favorite reporters. Yes, it happens.

Your executives (or you) have to brief the governor’s office or city or county executive or their spokespersons. They may pass this information on to media.

First of all, stick to the script. All of us have public information policies or privacy laws to contend with. Stray from what’s permissible, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of negative news. Generally speaking, we can provide name, charge, start and end date, date of birth and confirmation that the offender is in your institution. Medical, psychological, criminal history and adjustment issues (how well they are doing) are off limits.

Obviously, staff operational issues are extremely important. Having the right administrator take charge of the case and making sure staff are aware of what’s coming and what’s expected is extremely important. Let them know that the media may try contact them and what to do.

Some spokespeople decide not respond to celebrity related media requests until release. That’s wise policy. My suggestion is to create an extensive fact sheet on the institution and routine day-to-day activities for all offenders and place it on your web site. That should answer many standard questions.

Note that there is a huge difference between the mainline and entertainment media. The entertainment media knows no bounds. They will probably try to speak to every member of the institution’s staff (and their families) by phone or at home. They will try to visit any offender in the institution just to get a scrap of information or rumor. They will offer all thousands of dollars for a photograph.

Regardless of to the posture you take regarding day-to-day inquiries, you will have to deal with rumors. You need to have updated information sent to you daily. You need to visit the institution so you know the lay of the land. You have to be in a position to respond immediately to inevitable false accusations. While you may refuse to answer day-to-day questions about the celebrity, you do not want triple the number of media at your doorstep spurred by the false belief that you are hiding something.

You need to have the cell or private telephone numbers of the institution’s executive staff and shift commanders to make necessary connections fast. Be sure to brief your executives as to breaking situations before talking to media.

Finally, you may want to be available for off-the-record conversations with a small number of mainstream (not entertainment) media or media management. Why?

Because they want to clarify rumors, your briefings may be your best bet to keep all media under control. You cannot give up privacy act or public information act information, but you can provide access to clarify the exaggerated remarks of informants. Trusted media who know the truth (i.e., no suicide attempts, no hunger strikes, no mental breakdowns, etc.) can be your best friend.

You may want to provide some reporters with quick access by providing your cell phone number. Getting a unique cell phone and number for the occasion would be helpful.

These are the people you will have to deal with after a celebrity driven event. They think you are helping them establish the truth, and you are. But what you and your institution or system get in return is accuracy and some control over the story.

Experienced public affairs personnel, not part-time PIO’s or institutional employees, may want to consider this tactic. There is an art to doing this without violating privacy considerations that veteran public affairs staff routinely employ as needed.

I look forward to your suggestions or comments. Please contact me at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov.


Media Relations and Community Corrections

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is the parole and probation entity for Washington, D.C. It is a federal, executive branch agency. CSOSA prides itself on state-of-the-art practices, with some of the lowest caseloads and best contact standards, drug treatment options and programmatic initiatives in the country. Our information systems are first rate.

CSOSA decided in 2004 to embark on aggressive and comprehensive public relations outreach efforts to support strategic initiatives. Community corrections (and corrections in general) face immense public relations challenges. According to national surveys of confidence in the criminal justice system, corrections pales in comparison to law enforcement and the judiciary (see Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics).

The emphasis on offender reentry from prison is one example as to how the public looks at our activities. Although most of the rhetoric on reentry comes from national sources, the great majority of decisions regarding supervision and services for returning offenders will be made at the state and local levels.

The public will support this and other community corrections initiatives based solely on their ability to trust the local system assigned with implementation. The average citizen and reporter have never been exposed to national reentry advocates and their positions. All fellow citizens know about corrections is what they read in the paper and view on local TV.

But when the media carries endless stories of offenders committing violent crimes as the sole message, our ability to enter or affect the discussion is greatly diminished.

This article is not about reentry; rather, it addresses the more general question of whether corrections agencies can have a favorable impact on public attitudes and perceptions.

I spent 14 years as the Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Independent university research documented a gain of 30 percentage points (from 20 to 50 percent) in the public’s favorable opinion of the agency during my time there, which is remarkable considering the inevitable negative publicity associated with corrections. To be fair, my former agency also encompassed law enforcement agencies, but the vast majority of publicity, good and bad, was associated with corrections.

Correctional agencies can be part of the debate and greatly influence local and state media. It’s not my intent to provide an overview of basic public relations in this article, but to provide a synopsis of what the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency sees as critical ingredients in media and public relations.

A Service Orientation

The news media is very important to us. Unless you have an advertising budget, everything will be filtered and distributed through them. Establishing favorable media relations can only be accomplished by taking their needs into serious consideration. We believe that you have to be honest and fair in order to get the same in return.

We are available around the clock through agency cell phones and Blackberry’s. We have access to the CSOSA information system through home computers. We have laptops with wireless broadband capacity. We have the authorization, tools and knowledge to take care of media needs.

Proactive Marketing

We market to the media as often as we market to the public. In a hyper-competitive media market like the nation’s capitol, we know that our proactive efforts will not get all the exposure we want. But when a reporter writes about a parolee involved in a violent crime, we are hopeful that the reporter or editor also knows of the quality and comprehensiveness of our efforts to closely supervise and obtain services for our clients. At the very least, they will know what we are trying to accomplish.

We are also concerned about our national reputation. We want recognition for developing and implementing best practices. We have sometimes found it easier to market to CBS News and National Public Radio than to local media. But while national exposure is valued, our local media connections are the ones that will play the greatest role in defining our effectiveness.

We believe in proactive efforts as the foundation of good public relations. Beyond pitching story ideas to reporters, we are systematic in our outreach efforts. These include:

  • 1. A quarterly television show that is played approximately 600 times each year by D.C and metropolitan government and community access stations. Considering the majority of reporters (and other important partners) do not live in Washington (it’s an expensive town) regional exposure allows us to reach them in communities where they live.
  • 2. A first-rate web site (http://www.csosa.gov/) due to be unveiled this fall. We believe that upon completion, it will rank among the best criminal justice web and audio/video sites in the nation. A fully functioning site can become the equivalent of a full time public relations staff position.
  • 3. Writing story-oriented articles for national criminal justice publications and using them to populate the web site. In three years, staff has created approximately 40 articles and fact sheets to explain our activities in a friendly, non-technical way.
  • 4. The creation and promotion of podcasts (radio shows) for placement on the web site. We will use podcasts to explain what we do, to promote special initiatives, and recruit new employees. Our series of radio and television productions are carried under the banner of “DC Public Safety.” “DC Public Safety” is now, per Google, the most popular criminal justice podcasting site in the nation. (http://media.csosa.gov/ or http://www.csosa.gov/).
  • 5. The creation and promotion of video podcasts, which is nothing more than using existing CSOSA TV shows and video products and promoting them as web-based internet products(http://media.csosa.gov/ or http://www.csosa.gov/).
  • 6. The creation of a comprehensive e-mail and fax list to carry our message to local and national media and to interested national professionals and citizens of the District. Our new web site will also contain an e-mail signup option.
  • 7. Our Community Justice Programs section employs 5 community representatives whose job is to attend community functions in the city where crime is on the agenda.
  • 8. Our Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs is in constant contact with federal and D.C. government officials and staff and other institutions to explain and advocate our agendas. The public affairs team is part of this office.

The above is simply a sample of what we are trying to accomplish through our public relations efforts. The bottom line is that we believe that we are major players in the effort to protect the safety of the citizens we serve. We are dedicated professionals who are operating in everyone’s best interest, thus we have little to hide and much to contribute.

When the inevitable criminal act is committed by one of the 15,000 offenders we supervise daily, we hope that most members of the media will place the crime into proper perspective. We believe that this is done through an honest acknowledgement of our efforts to closely supervise offenders and help them to transform their lives.

Successful community correctional programs depend upon a working partnership with the media. Bad media relations will impede progress and undermine your ability to reach the public. In governmental public relations, the public’s trust and respect are everything. Without it, nothing good will happen. To get it, you need the media.


Promoting Corrections

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

Last spring, I attended a meeting on promoting community corrections in Lexington, Ky. It was organized by the International Community Corrections Association, the American Parole and Probation Association and was sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the US Department of Justice.

A survey administered prior to the conference revealed that there was little to no proactive promotion of community corrections throughout the country (something the organizations involved seek to remedy). I’m sure the same can be said for mainstream correctional systems or facilities.

If there is universal “agreement” that we do not promote, then let’s examine the reasons why. As someone who has spent close to 20 years representing virtually every aspect of corrections (jails, prisons, and parole/probation) on the state level for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and currently for the federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia, I believe I can offer some insight.

Correctional agencies, whether they are prison systems or community corrections, are chronically under-funded with massive and sometimes conflicting mandates. All of us make tens of thousands of decisions every day that involve significant risk.

Few offenders get the services they need. We live in a world of enormous stress and challenges. Regardless of our endless contributions to public safety, we believe that it’s probably better if we leave proactive media out of the picture.

For those who do not promote, there are reasons. You are probably understaffed without a promotional budget. If your days are filled with reacting to media calls or emergency planning or the many other duties as assigned, you may feel that promotions are simply too much to accomplish. Besides, there are few in management who are asking for promotional activities. In 20 years of agency public relations, I’ve heard “No news is good news” hundreds of times.

So for the majority of us, that’s the story. There is no will, money, time or management emphasis to promote. End of story.

But is it? I contend that proactive promotional activities are crucial to the mission of the organization. I submit that you can accomplish very little without the backing of public opinion.

To influence public opinion, you either have to have an advertising budget (which none of us has) or reach out to the media in a slow, multi-year effort to teach them about corrections. The thought is that this will influence their reporting, they will convey this information to the public, and you will be able to accomplish your goals.

Heading to the Exits

Many of you are headed to the exits right about now. “I’m sorry, Leonard, you do not understand my media market. They are unfair. They hate corrections and the people who work here. They are biased people who simply want to destroy me and everything I stand for. They move on to the next market with my blood on their hands, which they will display proudly.” Sound familiar? I may be exaggerating, but not by much.

We can spend the rest of the article talking about the reasons not to market ourselves (and there are legitimate reasons not to promote), or we can test the waters.

Your Future

I will say it again; aggressively promoting corrections is the key to the prosperity and future of your organization. Whether or not your personnel get raises or you get the funds to comprehensively promote offender reentry or successfully deal with a hostage situation principally depends on the media’s perception of your agency. It’s really that simple.

It’s impossible to address every aspect or to provide a comprehensive overview of promotions in an article. But I will provide a list of things for your consideration.

The bottom line of promotions (or public relations in general) is that every organization decides for itself the reputation it has. As unfair or absurd as that sounds, it’s true. We decide.

Regardless of budget or staffing or the never ending distrust many have of the media, our reputation is in our hands.

The media come to judge each and every one of us. They are no different from you or me. They can only process a limited amount of the information that comes their way.

So organizations are labeled either as honorable entities trying their best to do a good job under difficult situations or morons completely undeserving of sympathy or a successful program that gets the job done.

Many correctional organizations fall into the first category. Some agencies responding to Hurricane Katrina typify the second. It will take years of top-notch PR work to overcome what happened in the Gulf. Companies like Google capture the third.

What to Do?

So for starters, how you treat the media on a daily basis will pretty much decide how they treat your organization. Don’t know the answer to a question? Blow the deadline by failing to supply information in a timely manner? Don’t return calls in the evenings or on weekends?

The media will brand you and your organization as “typical, uncaring, unprepared bureaucrats.” And they will share this information with other reporters and news organizations.

The mast majority of reporters are decent people; they have a job to do, and they want accurate, timely information. Organizations (and their public affairs officers) either acquire a reputation for understanding and cooperating with this reality or, if not, for being evasive and having something to hide.

Treating the media fairly and responsibly-and respecting the job they need to do-is just the first step. The second is inviting them over to your house.

Good media relations means opening your doors. Let them see what you do. How are they ever going to come over to your side unless they know what you are going through? Let them come in. Let them talk to staff. Let them tour your facilities.

Good, hardworking people who are doing honest work in the public’s best interest have little to fear. Overly paranoid bureaucrats have something to fear. The media knows this. They understand the difference between the two.

If you’re treating the media fairly and letting them have the access they need to understand who you are, then it’s time to try some proactive activities. Quite simply, the more hooks you drop into the water, the more fish you will catch.

What do the Media Want?

The media is interested in hard news, human interest or a great photograph. If what you’re offering does not fall into one of those categories, don’t offer it. Bureaucrats sometimes want press conferences to “announce” items that may be tremendously important within their agency or community, but are not newsworthy.

I attended a press conference by a major power company that was giving $100,000 to local schools. They had a league of very well paid public affairs personnel promoting it. The media ignored it. It was not hard news, there were no good photographs available, and the human interest angle wasn’t sufficiently developed to generate coverage. The public affairs staff thought that the sizable donation would get their executives some face time with the media. They were wrong.

The adage is to give the media what they can use, not what you want them to have. There are endless consultants that will ask you to spend thousands of dollars on training so you can pitch a story regardless of the topic. Don’t waste your money. The media hates pitches that have no value, and they make you look silly.

Go with the good stuff. Have the courage to tell your administrator that a press conference concerning a boring topic is not a good idea. Having a press conference to discuss the impact of a new program will generate better results because it has news value. The line employee who raised $10,000 for a local charity is also a winner if you can link it to great photographs and quotes from recipients.

Long-term Endeavor

Every media call, every visit, every inquiry should be seen as an integral part of your overall public relations plan. Go to them. Ask them their opinion. Get to know them and their concerns and interests. Pitch stories frequently that they will appreciate.

Your Web Site and Podcasting

Your web site can be a 24 hour promotional activity if it is filled with story-based articles and fact sheets fairly describing what it is that you do and the impact of your operations. Media, citizens, policy makers and others will view your offerings if the site is attractive and filled with content that matters.

One of the best decisions you can make is to offer material that is easy to digest, interesting and informative. Giving your visitors the option to read, listen or watch videos makes the difference between a mediocre and a great site.

Podcasting (radio and television shows for the Internet) is another method of informing your public and defining yourselves. Audio podcasting is getting easier to do and can be done for as little as $500.00 or less on an existing computer. Video podcasting can require nothing more than joining your local public access station and spending a couple of hundred dollars for a half-hour television show.

All of this can be mounted on a rented server for $10.00 to $12.00 per month. Your local community college can provide you with the technical assistance to do it. Please see our podcasting web site at http://media.csosa.gov/.


I fully understand that what I’m suggesting may be beyond the budgets and available time for many of you. The complexities of promotions go far beyond what I’ve offered in this article.

But the bottom line is establishing the ability of your organization to prosper. For correctional facilities and systems, it will make a difference.

Some agencies put together a proactive public relations plan. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s important is your willingness to respond to new opportunities with speed and determination.

I will offer a final analysis; those correctional organizations who aggressively promote themselves prosper, and those who do not suffer under the perception of incompetent administration and failed initiatives. The choice, I maintain, is essentially ours.


So You Want to Podcast?

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

We started podcasting in October of 2006. As the Chair of the web site committee for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, it was our desire to add audio and video content to our redesigned web site (http://www.csosa.gov/). The new site will be up and running this summer.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is a federal, executive branch entity providing parole and probation services to Washington, D.C. The agency has a national reputation for excellence in design and execution, so we wanted a web site to match our reputation. We desired an experience that would be user-friendly with a choice to read, listen or watch story-based accounts of our operations.

In consultations with our IT department, they suggested that we do more than add audio of video content to our web site. They suggested that we do audio and video podcasting.

Podcasting was something I had heard about; that was it. I was reasonably proficient at word processing, e-mail and Internet searching, but no one would accuse me of computer or technological excellence. The thought of podcasting was daunting. I was intrigued by the possibilities, but woefully lacking in the skills necessary.

We started to populate our podcasting site (http://media.csosa.gov) in November 2006. We started advertising the site in January 2007.

The title of our radio and television shows is “DC Public Safety.” We are now one of the highest ranked shows for criminal justice issues (per key search terms) when searching sites like Google or iTunes. As of this writing, we have 250,000 hits to our podcast site, although the actual number of people listening to the shows is much smaller.

We have been called a “National model for communication” by the International Community Corrections Association. We are a resource for major national web sites, like “Justice Talking” by National Public Radio. Our programs are featured on the front page of a Department of Justice faith-based web site. We are featured on the US Government’s primary web portal.

What is Podcasting?

Podcasting is recording your voice or a conversation onto a computer and placing the recording on a server so others can listen. It uses an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed that allows others to download the recording onto their computer or a portable device, like an MP3 player. Your program is now available to anyone in the world with Internet service.

You do not need an iPod or other portable MP3 device. Most people listen or view podcasts through their home computer.

Video podcasting uses the same principals. You load a video program created by your agency or a local public access station. Throughout this article, I’ll refer to both audio and video efforts as podcasting.

After five months of production, it strikes me that audio podcasting (and possibly video podcasting) is something that all of us can and should do. I hosted radio and television shows about the criminal justice system for close to 20 years for my prior agency, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and for the last three and a half years for CSOSA, so I knew something about what it took to create interesting shows. But I knew nothing about the technical end. My guess is that you know little about it either.

By the way, podcasting is less expensive and less complex then many of us think. It does require patience (and humility) as you stumble your way through the process.

Why Podcast?

All of us in government and the private sector complain that we lack opportunities to tell our story without the filter of media. Without access to money for an advertising campaign, we are almost solely dependant on the media to tell our stories.

Web sites were our first opportunity to portray ourselves in the way we wanted to be displayed. The second is podcasting.

All of us want the public, media and partners to understand who we are and what we do. Podcasting provides us with that opportunity. There are many who will watch or listen before they will read.

With podcasting and handheld digital devices, you can take citizens along as you serve warrants. They can participate as the correctional officer walks his or her beat in the most difficult part of the prison. Judges can bring all into their courtrooms. For the first time, you can bring an endless array of sensitive issues directly to the public. You control the content. You get to say what you want to say and how you want to say it.

You can respond to emergencies. You can have recorded statements up and running in a matter of minutes. With little technical knowledge or expense, you can provide studio quality recordings quickly, and change them as necessary.

Police departments can warn the public that a new wave of burglaries are occurring in a certain part of the city and what you can do to prevent your home from bring broken into. You can send an alert about a missing child. You can communicate a wide array of crime prevention activities.

You can communicate with members of Congress or your local or state representative. You can talk to key partners or community leaders.

If you doubt the power of podcasting, it will all be erased when someone critical to the well being of your agency compliments you on a recent show and indicates that they have a better understanding of the issues involved.

At the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we are recording podcasts in Spanish that contain information for our Spanish speaking offenders. They will be advised of the rules. They will also be told of services available. We will make copies of the podcasts on CD’s to hand out. Spanish speaking line staff will produce the shows.

Employees love the exposure they receive. Probably for the first time, they and their missions are highlighted. They get to participate in the communication process.

For those who have a role in communicating with the public, you will be like a kid in a candy store. You have many choices and many ways to portray your message.

The final issues to understand are that podcasting is affordable and you do not have to be a studio engineer to do it. Using a computer and inexpensive microphones, I get quality sound that a couple of years ago would have required me to go into a professional recording studio. If I can do it, anyone can.

What are the Responsibilities of Podcasting?

To podcast, we are taking on a new set of responsibilities. You now become your own publisher. You need to publish what is fair and accurate.

As someone who has spent nearly 28 years in public relations for the criminal justice system, I fully understand that agencies can see situations through blinders. If you are going to podcast, you need to tell all sides of the story. Control of your message means that you must be fair, honest and accurate; the same things we demand from the mainstream media.

At the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we provide a forum to the offenders we supervise. We also bring in former offenders. They can be critical and unsupportive of the larger criminal justice system or us. There are times when their comments make me a bit uncomfortable. But short of profanity or slander (which has never happened) their comments are recorded as presented.

When I host our shows, I will ask the same questions any journalist or citizen will ask. There are times when employees are a little too complementary of the agency. I’ll specifically ask about some of the more challenging parts of the job or some of the difficulties they face.

We have the responsibility to be completely accurate and honest. I suggest that you listen to our shows and tell me what you think. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think most portrayals meet the standards I suggest.

You also need to understand that podcasting is not about the chief or director or superintendent. Podcasting means involving people directly responsible for doing the job. If you want citizens to understand your sex offender unit, that means interviewing line staff who do the job. My administration agrees that staff needs to take the lead when it comes to podcasting.

You need to be interesting but also understand that you are not in the entertainment business. The criminal justice system is serious business.

But if people are going to listen, that means you (and your guests) have to be worth listening to.

I recently watch a video podcast of an administrator with another government agency giving a speech. His delivery was bland and it made for an uninteresting podcast. This is what some of us fear in government podcasting; uninteresting and pointless podcasts. If we in government are going to podcast, we need to hold ourselves to good production values.

Again, I invite you to watch or listen to our audio or video podcasts. It’s not “60 Minutes” or any other commercially produced show. It’s just myself and guests trying to do the best we can. You be the judge. Some comments about the show are complementary. Some are not. We learn from our mistakes and move on.

The Technical Stuff

I’m not the best-qualified person to tell you about the technical stuff. But because of the similarities we share, I’m going to try.

Audio podcasting will cost you about $1,500 for a computer, software, microphones, headphones and a mixer. Obviously it will cost less if you are using an existing computer. It will cost an additional $500.00 or less for a handheld digital recorder; get one that is easy to use. User-friendly software exists for both Microsoft and Apple products.

As a federal government employee, I cannot recommend a commercially available product, but I can tell you that good recording software exists. I recently saw a podcasting package offered by a major retailer of music supplies that included everything you need for two-microphone podcasting. You’ve heard of home theater in a box? There is now podcasting in a box where everything you need is included.

You can take your existing computer and download or install the software you need. While the geeks in podcasting can argue endlessly about the type and quality of microphones and mixers and settings, a trip to any electronics store can solve the problem.

There are standard settings on all podcasting equipment that are perfect for beginners. As you get more proficient, you can alter the settings. It’s like my camera. I can set it to automatic settings, but as I became more proficient, I moved on to more technical shots. But either setting gives me a good photograph.

Please note that you want a two-microphone set-up. That will increase your start-up costs a bit, but doing interviews are necessary components to keeping your show interesting. It takes gifted people to inform and entertain by themselves.

There is great news about the cost of servers. The server is the device you put your podcasts on so anyone with Internet access can watch of listen. There are a wide variety of organizations (available via an Internet search) that offer you the ability to rent a server or part of a server for ten to twelve dollars a month. Low prices are a recent breakthrough that provides anyone with the ability to podcast.

Hundreds of people can access your shows at one time without server failure. Your IT department will likely thank you because they often do not have the bandwidth to provide the same service from your web site.

My ultimate suggestion is to find an IT expert who will show you how to operate the technical side. There is someone who podcasts in your community who will be happy to show you the ropes and get you up and running. Without our IT department, I could not have done it myself. They were wonderfully patient and walked me through the intricacies of the technical and production stuff.

As to video podcasting, there are public access stations throughout the country that will record shows for free or reasonable sums. You can record a TV show in some places for a couple hundred dollars. Try to include footage of your agency or issue (known as B-roll) into the show. Let them create an opening and closing video and music. Place the video on your rented server as a video podcast and use the audio as an audio podcast.

My bottom line is that the costs are reasonable and the technology understandable. I went trough lots of trial and error to get to this point and yes, it was a humbling process at times. I continue to make mistakes and learn. But it was worth it.

There are books and web sites that explain the process of podcasting. Plug “books” and “podcasting” into any search engine. Go for the books that describe themselves as basic introductions. Books exist for intermediate levels and marketing. Professional consultants are available if you can pay $100 to approximately $150.00 per hour. On-line instructions abound. Courses are available.

If you search the internet for information on podcasting, you will fine a wide array of sources ranging from Google to Yahoo to iTunes. Many sites offer discussion groups. iTunes offers podcasts on podcasting. But beware; some of these discussions involve geeks talking to geeks. The discussions can be hopelessly technical.

Final Suggestions

As stated, I strongly suggest that you get thee a geek. Get someone who is excited about podcasting and who looks forward to showing you what equipment to buy and what to do. They are at the local community college and in the community. They want to show you how to do it!

Buy and read the books. Don’t worry that you do not know what an RSS feed is. Nether did I. Yep, your going to feel like you’re out of your element and on uncomfortable ground. I still do. I probably invested 150 hours in reading and Internet searching.

The professional and personnel rewards of audio and video podcasting are endless. Your agency will reap the rewards of quality communication. Citizens have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what you do. You will find that you get comments from people from around the world.

Also note that the media will be impressed “if” you do it responsibly. The media likes agencies that are confident enough to participate in the public discussion. They respect those who are willing to serve citizens in new ways. Just make sure that the mission is to serve and not a platform for political or narcissistic behavior.

Podcasting is the wave of the future. It will become as important as your web site. It’s like having a team of proficient public relations specialists on duty 24 hours a day. The time to invest is now.