What journalists can learn from government agency engagement

Steven Solomon staffs the FEMA News Desk during one of his deployments. Solomon has been working with FEMA as media relations specialist for more than seven years. (Photo courtesy of Steven Solomon)

By Melanie Whyte

After seven days of 12-hour shifts, Steven Solomon sat a few pews back from the front of a synagogue with his head bowed. He was wearing his Federal Emergency Management Agency shirt when a woman approached him about a check her mother received in the mail.

“We had been giving out FEMA grants to cover the cost of damages from flooding,”  Solomon, a media relations specialist for FEMA, said. “The woman’s mother was worried to spend the money we had sent her.”

Solomon agreed to meet with the woman and her mother for coffee that evening to go over the FEMA paperwork to put her mind at ease. This is one of the many times Solomon has met with the public and media to discuss aide for the nation’s disasters.

Since 2009, Solomon has been with FEMA where he deploys as a reservist to disasters across the country. From hurricanes to the Valley Wildfire in California, Solomon’s stints as a FEMA public information officer last from weeks to months at a time.

When he is not deployed he volunteers as a PIO for Red Cross’s Phoenix Chapter and the Civil Air Patrol.  He also writes for and is section editor of the SanTan Sun News.

Solomon visited the PIN Bureau last month to discuss journalism engagement in terms of his experience as both a journalist and as a public relations practitioner.

During the discussion, Solomon called on students to deliver their elevator pitch. A few brave souls stood up and gave their mini bios, including their passions and where they work and spend their time.

After this experiment, he explained it was important to know how to sell yourself as a reporter, and to let sources know why you are passionate about writing their story.

Solomon said he always strives to be seen as accessible, enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

During his time with FEMA, Solomon said he found that government agencies use door-to-door as the most effective outreach.

“People trust word of mouth,” Solomon said.

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