Special Interest Group: Media First Response Fosters Expert Mass Media Public Relations Connecting our Schools and Communities

Mary Gregerson, PhD
Media First Response Special Interest Group Chair

Division 46 Outreach

Since 2014 when I was elected to the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 46 Presidential pipeline, I have led an effort called “Media First Response” (MFR). In this trans-Divisional effort, key Division 46 Members have collaborated with other APA Divisions’ key members. These key emergency mass media personnel are called Media First Responders (MFRers). As I conclude my Division 46 Past President year of service and exit formal leadership, this final MFR Special Report thanks the following MFRers expressly:

From APA and across America, Pakistan, Canada, and Jamaica, the MFR Originals: Rodney Lowman, Chris Ferguson, June Wilson, Shahbaz Siddiqui, Julie Meranze Levitt, Ellen Lent, George Rhoades, Mindy Mechanic, Heather Servaty, Jameca Falconer, Margaret Barnett, and Shayne Aquino–in a platform approach we trained each other in our respective disaster management skills.

From Leavenworth, Lansing, and Tonganoxie, KS, my hometown community officials: Leavenworth Mayor Lisa Weakley; Leavenworth School Superintendent Mike Roth; Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson; former and current State Representatives Tony Barton, John Bradford, Willie Dove, and Connie O’Brien; Tonganoxie, KS Fire Chief Jack Holcomb and his firefighters; Tonganoxie, KS Police Chief Jeffrey Brandeau and his staff; Leavenworth County Sheriff Andy Dedeke and Undersheriff Jim Sherley; and former Leavenworth City Manager Scott Miller and current City Manager Paul Kramer—-our collaborations strengthened our hometowns.

From wider federal governance overseeing my hometown of Leavenworth, KS: US Representative Lynn Jenkins and her staff as well as US Senator Jerry Moran and his staff–through mass media we interfaced locality with regional and national priorities.

Thank them, one and all!

Media First Response

Traditional emergency personnel train and prepare to provide immediate aid practiced and pre-experienced from drills simulating unexpected disaster/crises. For innovative emergency personnel like Media First Responders, preparation and drills are similarly as important. MFR consultation happens before emergencies occur. Hometown community officials discuss and practice handling media public relations during disaster/crisis management. We MFRers have prepared our emergency management hometown officials to expertly respond to mass media needs during these challenging public relations times. The MFR skill set fosters effective message delivery and contouring as well as social responsibility. A previous Amplifier Magazine Special Interest Group report outlined this MFR skill set.

The Original MFRers have many stories to tell. Some have had challenges networking with community officials to open doors to consultation. Some have prepared a range of these officials before catastrophe strikes. Others have maintained contact during whatever emergency occurred. Still others found rewarding the debriefing of officials afterward.

My Hometown Benefits!

My own MFR story has only just begun. A glimpse into selected instances of MFR collaboration over my Division 46 Presidential years illustrates the basis of my gratitude to the Division 46 Board that backed this initiative. Without Board support and participation, MFR would not have happened at this moment when the world, including my hometown, witnesses so many challenges brought into our everyday lives by mediated reports in our “global village,” as McLuhan termed it.

In my hometown a 2015 national media spotlight appeared unexpectedly when a Presidential initiative was announced to relocate Guantanamo Bay detainees to the nearby Fort Leavenworth, KS containing a penal compound. Our hometown deeply divided deeply on this bipartisan issue, with resulting debates, town halls, forums, open air protests, battling media counterpoints in print and television, and electronic media interviews, editorials, and investigations. I watched as those I had trained managed intense feelings on both sides of the issue that, thankfully, did not erupt into violence of riots, battery/assaults, and other crimes. With a variety of community officials I conferred via eMail, telephone, videoconferencing, and in person. When a new American President took office, bi-partisan relief was voiced to a person that our hometown had rebuffed this initiative without resorting to violence—MFR had not undermined political clout!

Leavenworth, KS Mayor Lisa Weakley travelled to the 2016 APA Conference in Denver, CO to speak about her experiences helping to develop the MFR consultation module. Of particular use for her was the composure promotion skillset. She then, unexpectedly, applied MFR navigating the Guantanamo Bay issue. At APA 2016 Mayor Weakley detailed how she used MFR effectively during this most challenging time of her term as Mayor. Now as a City Councilmember, she continues to apply her newly acquired and refreshed skills to deliver, while under pressure, effective media messages to influence positively community responses.

In 2017 Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson traveled to the APA Conference in Washington, DC at the outset of his MFR training. As a psychology undergraduate major, County Attorney Thompson drew parallels between what MFR offers and the challenges he faces. For instance, he most recently handled press for a law enforcement fatal shooting that caused family and community unrest. For the remainder of my 2017 term as Division 46 Past President I am consulting with him to augment the effective skills he has already demonstrated. Consulting with someone with a strong psychology background such as County Attorney Thompson requires a different consultation approach and will foster his peer input into contouring the skill set for future collaborations with those more psychologically minded.

In 2018 at the APA Convention in San Francisco, CA, Leavenworth School Superintendent Mike Roth will provide perspective on using MFR to address community concerns heightened in our national climate of threatened and actual school violence. Oftentimes “getting ahead of the narrative” through social media leads to foster more reasoned conversation to dissipate panic before it peaks negatively and contagiously. Dr. Roth used social media effectively and often to reach parents, teachers, students, and the community even after school hours. He sits in a “hot seat” of our culture today and MFR empowers him with evidence-informed behavioral science.

Thank You, Division 46

Media First Response culminates my career as a media psychologist following the scientist-practitioner-advocate model (Mallinckrodt, Miles, & Levy, 2014). The APA Division 46 Board crucially backed this effort. APA Division 46 President-Elect June Wilson is an Original Media First Responder, as is Christopher Ferguson, our Division 46 Representative to APA Council. Through MFR, our Division has reached out effectively to local, regional, state, national, and international leaders. We applied behavioral science to serve our communities when most vulnerable. Truly Media First Response has “made a difference!” (see Gregerson, Ferguson, Wilson, & Lowman, 2014).

A Final “Thank You” to My Hometown Rotary Club

The last acknowledgement needs to go to my Leavenworth, KS Rotary Club. This organization inspired the conception of the Media First Responder Corps. For a Leavenworth Rotary Club meeting program, I presented the first thoughts on the structure and process of the Media First Responder Corps. Many of my fellow Rotarians who are hometown officials agreed to consult with me; their honest, facilitative feedback contoured the effective program I could offer others.

I “made a difference” in my hometown. This year Rotary International President Australian Ian Riseley had a simple theme “Making a Difference,” and, yes, President Riseley, I think I have!


Mallinckrodt, B., Miles, J.R., & Levy, J.J. (2014). The scientist practitioner advocate model: Addressing contemporary training needs for social justice advocacy. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 8, 303-311.

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