The terrible tragedy and heartbreak playing out in Colorado provides an invaluable lesson for crisis and emergency communications. It shows in many respects the best and worst of what news has become today.
I just blogged over at emergencymgmt.com about the role of twitter and viral video in immediately telling the story and how news media coverage jumped in, joining in the conversation and amplifying the message. I would consider this the best of our new news world in that eyewitnesses including those actually participating in the event become the news tellers for the rest of us. Everyone who then conveys it on to others becomes part of “the media.”
The media, for its part, curates and presumably corrects and verifies. This verification and curation process, in addition to the massive expansion of the story by traditional media like ABC News ought to serve the public’s interest in getting accurate information and a truthful perspective. But, it’s not working that way. Brian Ross stepped all over himself and has given ABC News the reputation of a National Enquirer by connecting on air the alleged shooter and a person by that name in Aurora, Colorado listed on a Tea Party website.
Now, we all have biases, and one of my strong biases as a long time critic of news coverage is that Brian Ross should have been fired a long time ago. Not for mistakes like this, but for his either fundamental dishonesty or terrible investigative reporting–he is the one I hold responsible primarily for the unfair destruction of Toyota’s reputation around the supposed software glitches that claimed lives. I never saw him apologize, nor ABC, when it later became clear by investigation that the victims were not what they said and the problems with acceleration came from incorrectly installed floor mats, not software and not Toyota’s now widely believed profits before people philosophy.
Ross and ABC News did a great disservice that is much deeper than poor reporting. One of the worst things about today’s news is how every dad gummed little thing gets politicized. So many in the digital lynch mob want to turn everything into a left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative political issue. There is nothing that we know of so far that I have seen that was political about this shooting in Colorado. But now the hyper-partisan have every reason to weigh in and spew their often hate-filled ideas.
Thanks a lot for making that a lot easier, ABC News. Since I expressed so much respect for the former president of ABC News, it will be interesting to see how the new president deals with this very big black eye.