Over the past few days I’ve repeatedly watched a spectacular explosion at foundry in Tacoma. It has been aired over and over on KING5 in Seattle and probably all other local tv stations. Here it is on the KING5 website.
Explosions are also fun to watch–although as I write this the driver of the propane truck that was unloading propane remains in critical condition. But what made the airing of this exciting video possible was the cell camera. A passerby caught the whole thing, starting from a reasonably small fire that erupted into a huge fireball, blowing out windows a quarter mile away–all on his cell phone. Sure, the image was grainy, the cameraman hardly still, and you get the obligatory “Oh sh…..!” commentary. But it is compelling news footage. The frequent airings make that clear.
I thought about this because last week I was sitting with the PIO of a large west coast city and we were talking about the ubiquity of cell cameras and what that means for the instant news world. I’ve been used to talking about 70 million citizen journalists with their blogs. But how about the many more millions of cell phone owners with camera-equipped phones. Each of the them eager to do with this man did: capture something truly exciting and have it aired all over the region or nation.
The implications for crisis communications ought to be obvious. The day of transparency. Acceleration of the news cycle. The emphasis on video. The use of the graphic, scary and otherwise compelling images to attract audiences and keep them. The delivery of these through multiple modes including internet. The continuing discussion about them after the news media has gone on to other stories–just like I am doing now. This is the instant news world in front our eyes. Get used to it.
Cameron in my office just sent me a link to a news story about the shooting of a University of Memphis football player. Since we are closely involved with university communication and notification, the story was interesting to both of us. Included in the story was this quotation: “After the shooting, students complained the Tiger Text emergency alert text messaging service did not immediately notify them of the shooting. A message sent just after 4:00 a.m. Monday morning informed students classes were canceled Monday.”
This is interesting because we try to communicate to those in the university community about the limitations of notification technologies following the frenzy relating to the Virginia Tech tragedy.
But when I went back to the link Cameron provided, the quotation was gone. I asked Cameron what happened. Well, what happened was the story was changed and the link, of course, remained. It was edited. Understandable, of course. He didn’t hit print and get a record of it as it was originally with the above quote, so it is gone (except, of course, I captured it here for you from his email.)
I talk incessantly about instant news–about how fast the news story starts. What I don’t talk about enough and this demonstrates is “instant news change.” That moment by moment the story evolves and changes. From a communication standpoint it means several important things:
– the bad news may go away quickly if it is replaced with something else (more bad news or some change in the original)
– good news, ditto
– sending a press release out every day or even every few hours doesn’t cut it–today’s crisis communications means a virtual constant flow of fresh information. Because if it isn’t coming from you it will be coming from someone else.
– real time, constant and consistent monitoring of all forms including blogs and online sites is absolutely essential. You need to know not just that your story is being covered and how it is being covered, but how it is changing moment by moment
– hit the print button if you want to capture a story as it is right now–or, capture the clip in the clip book and then monitor again.
Someone defaced Rush Limbaugh’s face on a Baltimore billboard, and a Public Works employee, clearly no fan of Rush’s, made a comment about it doing his heart good. And the media/blogworld was off on a wild frenzy. This story from the Baltimore Sun needs to be posted in the offices of every communication manager in the world. And especially this comment from Lee Rainie of Pew:
“Something can go from zero to a million miles an hour in a couple of clicks,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “That makes us sort of a hair-trigger world.”
Wow. But more than this–put this in the context of my previous post about top communicators and crisis management experts still having a hard time understanding what has happened in the new information environment–all I can say is please pay attention.
I’ve got to readjust my thinking too. I used to preach and harp on the “Golden Hour.” I think I might have to change it to the Golden Minute.
Today’s Bulldog Reporter Daily Dog newsletter includes a piece I wrote about what is happening to the media and using my analysis of the coverage of the Delta Zeta story as an example.
I commented yesterday about how the discussion about Delta Zeta and the NYT’s coverage is lasting well beyond the newspaper’s coverage. An important lesson for crisis communicators because this lengthens greatly the time of a crisis event and adds to the need to continue communicating. Those involved in the discussion after the media flash has gone are frequently the most interested and the most passionate about the topic (as some of the comments on crisisblogger can demonstrate.) Now I find myself contributing to the phenomenon.
I look forward to the discussion that will come from this. I just read the comment from Carl who points out the difference between print media and broadcast–noting that broadcast tends to the more sensational and entertainment focus rather than print because it is so driven by immediate ratings. I agree, Carl, but that too is changing. As all print media now have their news websites, they have become broadcasters. They not only now compete more on the basis of speed–immediacy is everything–but they also compete on the basis of immediate ratings. The ad dollars they generate both on their sites and by driving site viewers to their print versions is based on traffic to their sites. They are now also ratings driven and I think we are seeing the result of that. Whether or not the Delta Zeta story is an example, I am not sure. But more and more all news media are competing on similar terms and based on quickly generating as big an audience as they can.