Robert Tornabene, host of The P.I.O. Podcast

580. Robert Tornabene hosts podcast for public information officers

Robert Tornabene spent the first half of his 26-year career as a law enforcement officer before being asked to change positions and take on an administrative role as a public information officer. 

Tornabene was surprised at the inadequate process in place for providing information about arrests and crimes to both media and curious citizens.

“We did not have one social media account,” he says. We didn’t even have a digital way of putting out incidents or communicating to the media. They used to have to come in, sit down, read all the reports that were redacted and put in what they wanted to release to the public. The problem is, it was three, four, sometimes five days after something had happened. It wasn’t timely.”

Tornabene began to summarize each day’s reports and offer reporters the opportunity to ask him about the incidents they were most interested in, and he’d provide details based on their inquiries. It was a faster and more direct way to share information with the public, while focusing on the items that were of most interest. He also created social media accounts for his department, including a Pinterest and YouTube channel, and started a regional group with another colleague to help other public information officers do their jobs better. They also started hosting regular panel discussions with reporters to determine how both sides of that sometimes strained relationship could work better together. 

In 2020, after a family medical emergency put Tornabene into early retirement, he started producing The PIO Podcast, a podcast for PIOs, bringing on other experts in the field to share their advice and stories with other public information officers. 

“I listen to a lot of podcasts and that helped me formulate the model I do now,” Tornabene says. “In the beginning, my audio was not all that great. I learned how to do things on Audacity, kind of learn as you go. The company that hosts my podcast, they have a lot of great training available. It was relatively easy to get myself up and running. The hardest thing was finding the guests. I didn’t want to run one podcast episode and then stop. I lined up my first 10 guests before I launched the podcast. If you don’t have at least 10 episodes, it’ll be difficult to create a following.” 

Tornabene makes a regular practice of closely following the news for big incidents that draw a lot of attention, then going back to those police departments and inviting their PIOs to come onto his podcast and talk about their experiences. He recently interviewed the PIO from Michigan State about how she handled the media inquiries about a shooting there.

“That was a great interview, a really interesting learning experience for listeners,” Tornabene says. “There are little things in there that we don’t talk about. One of the things she did was she put her voicemail with a note saying don’t leave a message, follow our Twitter account, everything will be official through our Twitter. If you’re a one- or two-man operation, your phone is overwhelmed (when a big event is happening). You’ll never get to those messages. If you can give people an avenue to go to, that’s a good learning skill for everyone.” 

Tornabene acknowledges the push and pull between PIOs and the media and how they share a common goal of informing the public about incidents in their community. 

“We have a symbiotic relationship. Our job is to provide you guys information so you can get it out to the public. We want to do it for the most part,” he says. But there are times when information will be withheld in the name of protecting victims. 

“The arrest is not so much an issue. We put the mug shot out, we put out information about what they’re charged with. In some high profile cases, people want to know more. When it’s questions that are more invasive to the victim, sometimes we get very protective of the victim. In some cases, the public does not need to know someone was stabbed 75 times. We don’t need to read an arrest affidavit to provide all that information to the media. You’re going to dig it up. I think our job is to provide the information but try to be cognizant that we have victims, many of them are juveniles, many of them victims of trafficking. So many sensitive issues come out of that. I don’t want to re-victimize someone who has been targeted and victimized for years.” 

Robert Tornabene, senior public communications supervisor for the Colorado Springs Police Department, discusses The PIO Podcast, where he interviews public information officers about how they do their jobs.

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