The cell camera: crisis a phone click away

October 9, 2007

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.

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