Tag Archives: James Garrow

Has the “audience” gone extinct?

I was intrigued by the post and discussion on James Garrows’ excellent blog The Face of the Matter about whether or not the audience has gone the way of the dodo and buggy whip. It’s not merely an academic debate, but I think a very real issue in how we think about communications today.

I’ve been busy preparing for a media training session, including on-camera media interviews, that I will be doing all day tomorrow. Haven’t done one of these in a while and it has caused me to think about what is different about the kind of media training required now vs. yesterday. That’s why I think this audience discussion is relevant.

I’ve also found it isn’t new. Here is a fascinating discussion on Jay Rosen’s Press Think about this topic under the title “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.”  This was written in June, 2006. Here’s one of many great comments and quotes: Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”

Audience does denote passivity. The picture is of a filled theater with people waiting for the show to begin. But what do you call a theater when the “audience” does all the performing? Some might call it performance art, most would call it chaos. And for many, particularly those in the media who have become accustomed to a tame, eager and largely passive audience, chaos hardly describes it. Maybe anarchy.

But, we have reality to deal with. Tomorrow, as I train some school administrators and board members, I will try and help them better prepare if they suddenly find themselves in front of a TV camera and some difficult questions thrown their way. Because that is still the reality of communications today. But I will also tell them, that much if not most of what goes on in an event that puts them in the spotlight doesn’t really involve the traditional media. In fact, there can be conceivably no involvement at all and still have a massive problem. There could be no active participation on their part, and still have an excellent response.

Things are just not as simple as they were before. We may still find ourselves in the front of the theater packed with people. Some will sit passively, waiting for our messages. Others will jump to the stage and try to take over the show. Still others will converse quietly with their own little group, paying only occasional attention to what we are doing and saying on stage. It’s not right to say there is no audience. But there is no question that the audience has gotten far more active, engaged and rowdy. It makes crisis communication and media training even more exciting.

Blending of comms into response–what should it look like?

In my eleven issues for 2011 post, one of the items referred to what I see as the inevitable coming together of external communication and operational response. This triggered this thoughtful blog from James Garrow, who until today I only knew as “Jimmy Jazz.” Have greatly enjoyed the interaction with “Jimmy” on this blog and appreciate his insight on these issues of real importance to the future of NIMS, ICS and response management.

For those not jumping to his blog post (which you should), here is a relevant comment:

I advance the idea that today’s media environment is completely different than the media environment that ICS was developed in. Aside from increasing capacity (see: incorporation of the Joint Information Center, media center and ESF 15), there has been no fundamental change in how PIOs act within the ICS structure. I wonder if the change in how the world interacts with the public information component of modern organized response should necessitate changes in how modern organized response creates and disseminates public information. Has public information become part of operational response?

I’ve talked with colleagues at the local and federal level about this idea, (start ICS) about moving public information out of the Command staff and placing them under the Operations Chief (end ICS). No one thought it was a good idea. They felt that the direct relationship between the Incident Commander (IC) and PIO was vital to speed information releases. But I find that there is already talk in social media circles about how getting social media messages approved by the IC is too slow, so I don’t see how that relationship will continue to be sacred.

For my part I tend to agree with Patrice Cloutier who commented on Garrow’s post that the fear would be loss of PIO influence over Command decisions. If anything, that influence is almost certain to expand. However, I completely agree with James’ observation that the world in which ICS was created does not resemble the world we currently live in regarding public information. Public and political sentiment already is substantially impacting response decisions and will only grow in the future. Communication in this world is not one way linear flow of bare facts. It is a complex interaction, a conversation occurring at multiple levels. That conversation needs to become embedded not just in Command or Operations, but in every element of the response. How to do that will be the big challenge for influential response professionals and policy makers.