I’ve lost count of the number of times friends and former colleagues now working in PR – especially public sector PR – tell me that one of the best things about social media, and, indeed, the web in general, is that ‘it means we can communicate directly with the public.’ Only, depending on how long they’ve work in public sector PR, people stop being the public, and become ‘residents’ or, worse still, ‘service users.’

And of course, they’re right. But that certainly doesn’t leave the media without a role to play – as these two tweets demonstrate.

Last night, Cheshire Police posted this Tweet on their account:

While without doubt news, it certainly wouldn’t strike many people as being that unusual – after all, police forces do, indeed, investigate deaths.

Fast forward a few minutes, and Sky News put out this tweet:

Same incident, but a headline which gives away much more. This isn’t an ordinary ‘investigation into a death.’ It involved armed officers from Greater Manchester Police shooting dead a car passenger, as the Manchester Evening News reported:

Armed Greater Manchester Police officers shot a passenger dead after the car he was in was stopped during an operation in Culcheth, Cheshire.

Indeed, go back to the link Cheshire Police shared and you’d find a press release which wasn’t really for giving much away:

“At around 7.20pm on Saturday 3rd March, an incident took place near Jackson Avenue in Culcheth, Cheshire, whereby a car was stopped by armed officers from Greater Manchester Police.

During the contact, a male occupant of the car was shot and sustained fatal injuries.

Two men were arrested at the scene and remain in custody. The deceased′s next of kin have been informed.

Cheshire Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police are now investigating the full circumstances of the incident and the Independent Police Complaints Commission have been informed.

Cheshire police patrols have been increased in the area, and the community of Culcheth should be reassured that this is an isolated incident and there is no risk to the community as a whole”

To work out what happened, you have to read between the lines. Cheshire Police would probably argue that their hands were tied by what they could say in a press release.

That may well be the case – but the media certainly weren’t. And that’s why, to me, this is case which demonstrated that while direct access to the ‘public’ might be good for the organisations involved, but it certainly isn’t always good news for the ‘public’.


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