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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

PIOs: The good, the bad, and the ugly

On today’s show, we’re talking about the crucial and sometimes contentious relationship between journalists and public information officers. At stake: the ability of a free press to function — and of the public to stay informed about what their government is doing. So, no pressure.

On this episode, we’re talking about PIOs — Public Information Officers. More broadly, we’re talking about all the public employees who help government agencies communicate with the press and the public. When everything goes well, a good relationship between the press and PIOs means important, timely information gets to the public.

But, things don’t always go well.

So, this week, we’re joined by WHQR journalist Rachel Keith to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to public communication. To help unpack it all, we’re also joined by three guests who have studied, and lived, the relationship between journalists and PIOs.

Our guests for this show:

  • Mark Stencel is an Adjunct Instructor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy and Co-director of the Duke Reporter’s Lab. 
  • Jennifer Dandron is a former journalist who turned to public communications, serving as the former PIO for the Wilmington Police Department and the City of Wilmington. She’s now the Executive Communications Manager for Lowe’s Companies. 
  • Mike McGill also started off in journalism, working for the National Journal, CNN, and CBS’s DC-area affiliate. He was the former Chief Communications Officer for CFPUA before founding his own company, WaterPIO, which consults utilities on public communications strategy.


Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR