my new grandchild arrives into a different world

Grandchild #6 is about to arrive. I’m blogging from the hospital waiting room–could be any minute. The world that Roman Victor Rodriguez will inhabit will be very different from the world I entered 56 years ago. For example, I was kept informed of the progress my daughter was making toward his arrival via text messages and twitter feeds to her blog.

I just read the twitter feed coming from the delivery room while in the waiting room, about 50 feet from where the blessed event is happening and found out the guy with the big needle arrived and she is feeling good.

Alright, I won’t go into any more details about the arrival but the point ought to be obvious. It is an instant news world. New methods are coming into play almost every day aimed at keeping us continuously and instantly informed of the events that matter most to us. Relevance is everything in an information saturated world. But so is speed and directness. Can we get faster than instant? Can we find a way to be in multiple places at the same time? My grandparents could not have imagined this world and how I as a grandfather am informed of something really important to me. And I cannot imagine how my grandson, when his grandchildren arrive, will be participating. Instant news, indeed.

To add one more thing: photos. Just got a photo from the delivery room. She looks great. Sent from an iphone–of course this can be instantly published and distributed to interested audiences too. Video as well.

text messaging and trust

Several conversations in the last couple of weeks with public safety officers (police and response managers mostly) have led me to conclude that the impact of Virginia Tech is spreading from college campuses to local government officials. I predicted here, shortly after the VT tragedy, that if students expect instant multi-mode communication from those responsible for their safety, will Joe Blow on the street be far behind. Turns out the answer is about 12 months behind. Officials are thinking about and planning how to more quickly, efficiently and effectively notify any and all citizens who want to be in whatever form they choose.

Notification companies continue to proliferate, merge, move and introduce new advanced communication technology. This is great but it also is very clear that the fundamental message about this they we have consistently tried to communicate is more appropriate than ever: Notification is not communication. Sending a 140 character text message only starts a process–it does not end it. If you cannot instantly follow that text message up with comprehensive communication management–push, pull and interactive–you have created a hungry beast that you will fail to feed. And the beast will eat you alive.

More problems with text messages on campus–absences

USA Today ran a story recently about how text messaging among students about threats is dramatically increasing absences on school and university campuses:

More than two-thirds of students took a day off April 21 at two high schools in Maury County, Tenn., after threats that came after the funerals of two murdered young people.

•One-third of students at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, Ky., left school April 21 after text messages warned that a student would bring a gun to school.

•Nearly a fourth of students at Tokay High in Lodi, Calif., stayed home April 16 after text warnings of a gang shooting.

Since Virginia Tech it has become essential for every university and now schools to have some way of mass direct notification using text, text to voice conversion, digital signboards, etc. That rush has now spread (as I predicted it would I must say) to local governments who are realizing that if students expect to be notified, why not citizens on the street.

Yet, these solutions have massive problems. The systems can be easily jammed up with too much traffic, students refuse to divulge their cell numbers to administrators for privacy reasons, technology itself is not completely reliable, false alarms, and now–students themselves crying “wolf.”

A couple of observations–1) there is no going back. We aren’t going back to the days of USPS delivery pre-Fed Ex and we aren’t going back to relying on the Emergency Broadcast System or local radio news reports. No way, no how. We will continue to demand those responsible for our safety be able to communicate instantly and directly with us.

2) new devices will revolutionize this–or I should just say, Apple and RIM will revolutionize this, as they already have with the iphone and the blackberry. The ability of individuals to access critical information right now has grown exponentially in just the past year or so, and will continue to grow. Safety managers need to understand and respond to this growing capability with matching capability to use it for safety communication purposes.

3) As more proliferate, the “cry wolf” syndrome will increase–and the only answer is faster response, better rumor management and the ability of administrators to instantly counter the false information. Some are getting this and are creating that capability. Others probably never will–and it will bite them at some point. If this is true for universities, it is true for large cities and small towns, for large employers with lots of employees and even for the smallest operation.

The demands for instant, direct, transparent information continue to grow.

Why KING5 News is forcing me to switch to an alternative

I’ve been a loyal and regular viewer of Seattle’s KING5 (NBC) news for many years–way back to the Bullitt sister’s days. It has consistently been, in my mind anyway, the class act among local news options which include KOMO (ABC), KIRO (CBS) and KCPQ (Fox).

This despite hiring a reporter who while working at another TV station engaged in very unethical behavior in my opinion and forced me to do the unthinkable–stop an interview with my client part way through and threaten to prevent it from continuing if the line of questioning continued. Still I watched.

I even watched through the often ludicrous “investigative reports” that so obviously mimicked the news magazines. The poor reporters were increasingly desperate to uncover the great scandals, consumer abuses, threats to the environment, whatever, that required them to engage in the most embarrassing forms of “gotcha journalism” I’ve ever seen. How many times do we need to see a reporter following an unwilling interview subject to his car, the camera tight on him, while the reporter in the frame continually yells “Why won’t you talk to us sir?” I wish some journalism student would do a study on how many times this little drama has played out over the past few years. But even this charade didn’t stop me from watching.

But “Get Jesse” finally has. OK, I’ll admit that watching Seinfeld was often painful for me because my stomach would turn with the incredibly embarrassing situations that George Costanza would get himself in. And my stomach turns in the same way with Get Jesse. Jesse Jones, a big African-American reporter no doubt has some good reporter skills, but are hidden by a very aggressive, angry demeanor and a most annoying way of signing off his reporters by saying “JESSE Jones, King 5 News.” Now they have given him his own segment in which “gotcha journalism” is carried to the most degrading depths imaginable. On the flimsiest pretenses, he will make a huge drama out somebody’s complaint. Of course, what they want is to stimulate viewers to complain so they have fodder for these kinds of stories.

My complaint is in large part the abuse (see the lasik story discussion as an example) of those people victimized by this desperate need to entertain. I mean, why is it always those complaining who are in the right?

But my deeper concern is this as continuing evidence for the way old media is dealing with the loss of audience crisis. They go further and further away from traditional, credible journalism and ever deeper into infotainment. They are desperate to find and hold an audience in order to support their ad rates. Understandable. But until they see that these extreme measures such as Get Jesse are counter productive to building an audience, they will continue this steep slide into melodrama. I think we need to find a way to let them know that this kind of “journalism” drives us away. I’m switching channels and encouraging those of you who agree with my concern to do the same.

We know one hospital that "gets" the instant news world

Yesterday, we participated in a large scale disaster drill. Explosion, chemical release, dispersed toxins, numerous casualties–multi-county response, helicopters flying, “casualties” showing up a the hospital unannounced. While the JIC performed pretty well, the hospital was not part of the JIC and it is quite clear that they are not prepared to adequately deal with the old and new media crush that would come.

However, one hospital in Indiana has been living in the instant news world for some time, thanks to Fred Bagg, its director of communications. I am posting Fred’s comments about their communication policies and plans because I think they are an excellent example of the kind of continual information push that is now required.

From Fred Bagg:

I agree with the systems thinking approach. For more than a decade my hospital has used the 30 minute cycle release format…now blogs, podcasts and other new media make that even easier:
1. Upon notification of “whatever” IMMEDIATELY release the pre-prepared statement (live, on your website, recorded on a phone message or whatever.) Ours is short – “At X o’clock St. Francis was notificed that…(one sentence description of what we KNOW)…and we have initiated the crisis/disaster/incident response team to respond to the situatlion. We will have our first update at X o’clock (nearest half-hour that is 20 minutes or more away.)
2. Use 20 minutes to gather information…
3. Use 5 minutes to write a short paragraph summary of what you KNOW to be true and advise when the next information will be available.
4. Use 5 minutes to gain approval from whoever (in our case, the on site senior executive)
5. Post it, release it, record it…and start over every half hour on the half hour.
6. Keep doing it until outside help or your staff arrive and/or things simmer down enough for less frequent messaging.
Even in today’s “instant – Now is too late” (Thanks) world…that still works.