Importance of media relations

Corporal Sonny Collins spoke to members of the Student Media Association (SMA) Thursday, Sept. 27 in the Academic Computer Center (ACC) about his role as a public information officer (PIO) for the South Carolina Highway Patrol. 

Collins is a State Trooper whose jurisdiction includes the Florence and Myrtle Beach areas. His job is to relay information from the Highway Patrol to members of the news media. Collins recently worked during Hurricane Florence to provide quick updates on unsafe roads, crashes and anything else that the media may need to know. 

Collins started his presentation by explaining how he communicates with the media. He said he used to have to make multiple calls during an event like a hurricane where information needs to move quickly. This often led to miscommunication because he would make dozens of different calls where he might have to say something different each time. However, he explained that he and his colleagues now use an app called Nixle, which is exclusive to members of the media, to send one message to several different reporters. 

Collins then explained how often troopers need to talk to the press to share information. In 2017, his troop had 3,458 TV interviews, 677 print interviews and 174 radio interviews. He also mentioned how large-scale events such as hurricanes or officer-involved accidents affect these numbers.

During Hurricane Florence, Collins received 77 calls from the media. He also got 54,381 Twitter impressions in three hours after posting a video of water flooding a bridge, which he said is up from his normal average of 3,000 to 4,000 impressions. 

Collins emphasized the relationship that he and his troopers have with the media. Each trooper goes through basic training to learn how to interact with the media so they know what they can and cannot say. However, this does not mean that it is a hostile relationship.

Collins mentioned some of his close friends are part of the media. He told a story about his colleagues using a boat to get members of the media through the water to report on a deadly crash during Hurricane Florence. He also said that during times of crisis he makes sure to look out for the local media since they stick around after the crisis is over. 

“When it comes to PIOs and journalism, we need each other,” Collins said. 

Collins came to the SMA meeting to help young journalists understand what the relay of information looks like from his side. 

“Understand that while journalists go to school to learn how to do this, we do training to learn how to do this as well, because it is a team,” Collins said. “Because the public has to be given the right information as fast as they can, and y’all need us to give you the information and we need y’all to get the information out.” 

Collins has been working in law enforcement for years. He worked for the sheriff’s office in Florence County for five years before joining the Highway Patrol and he said the part he enjoys the most about his job is being able to provide a service to the public. 

“I think that for anybody that gets into law enforcement, the core reason is to help somebody,” Collins said.