There was a trade press article which caught my eye last week about the style guide which the BBC issues to journalists. Much of the advice is around the need to avoid certain potentially offensive or outdated phrases and it all looks fairly sensible.
However, I was interested to see that the BBC guide suggests that the term “spokesperson” should not be used and that instead quotes should be attributed to “a company representative” or referred to as being a statement on behalf of the organisation.
I remember that when I was working in the press office at Camden Council a decade or more ago our main local paper, the Camden New Journal, went through a phase of always introducing any statement which we gave them with the phrase “a Council press representative said”. I was never entirely sure quite what the point was that they were trying to make and the practice was quietly dropped after a few months.
For press officers working in the public sector this does raise the ongoing issue of who quotes should be attributed to. In my experience most local authorities now have a policy of responding to media inquiries with a quote in the name of a Councillor, usually the relevant portfolio holder. One benefit of this is that it makes the response seem less impersonal if it is coming from a named individual rather than from a faceless organisation.
It is also important, particularly when dealing with contentious issues, that a senior figure is named and quoted as it shows that they are taking ownership of the issue. In a time of crisis the public, and the organisation’s own staff, will gain more reassurance from an actual person then they will from a spokesperson.