Archive for July 14th, 2009

How news is done today–Breaking News and NYT

July 14, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that one of the few Twitter feeds I follow is Breaking News or Breaking News On. Didn’t know much about them except they were consistently 10 to 15 minutes ahead of almost anyone else when it came to breaking a story–and usually did a pretty good job of reporting stories of significance rather than just filling up my Tweetdeck.

Well, New York Times did a story about them–not that it seems they were terribly happy about the way the paper reported on their plans to sell and iphone app and charge a monthly fee for their breaking news. Hey, if you are 19 years old, figured out a way to out scoop the biggies, got 800,000 people hanging on your every tweet and out perform ABC News and others in the social media news world, who would take away their right to make a little money on their hard work?

If you follow them you might note their coverage of the false report from a Sacramento TV station about a commuter plane crash. You can see how they work and what happens when the report is false. The breaking news feed on the TV station reported a commuter plane crash. They contacted FAA who did not confirm. They watched the news feed from the TV station and watched the crawl quietly disappear. Finally confirming that no commuter plane crashed. Tweeting unpleasantly about their lack of trust in that TV station, then apologized to followers for the inaccurate report.

And that’s how it is done today. Speed is everything. Tell what you know right now. Try to confirm. Tell what you know and don’t know. Correct asap if you got it wrong. Tell why. Apologize for any mistakes. And keep talking.

This is almost impossible for most in crisis communications and emergency management to grasp. They cannot conceive of this speed requirement and this new audience expectation. Get it right the first time or don’t say anything at all is their belief. Too bad that that means when they do get around to speaking, no one will be listening.

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Brain Rules–why crisis managers should read this book

July 14, 2009

One of most well written and intriguing books I’ve read in a long time is Brain Rules by John Medina. I just happened to pick it up a little book store while exploring one of our little coastal towns in the Pacific Northwest and was pleased to see that the author is affiliated with Seattle Pacific University–my alma mater and also where I taught for a year.I’m very pleased to see it is now on the New York Times bestseller list.

The reason this book applies to crisis managers is because of the many insights into how our brains work. The applications are too many to list here but a few highlights that stuck with me.

1) Responders need exercise and rest. May sound obvious but when you look at the steep decline in rational thinking and productivity when people get stretched beyond their endurance you will make certain your crisis plans include plenty of qualified backup staff.

2) Messaging. When people are under a lot of stress (such as fearful in a hurricane, tornado or pandemic) they process information differently. Dr. Vincent Covello has been preaching this for a long time and has come up with some simple and powerful messaging formulas that should be applied by all crisis and emergency communicators. Medina provides the scientific rationale for Dr. Covello’s practices.

3) Vision trumps all. When you read (or watch the videos online that illustrate the rules)  this you will wonder why we are (and I am right now) so hooked on communicating by putting these funny visual symbols on paper or on your computer screen. We all need to think more how we can communicate our key messages through video and images. Video particularly when you read about how the brain deals with motion vs images.

4) Gender. I got to admit, the author was pretty fearful about going into this realm, and I think took political correctness a bit too far. But the example he provided of what happens when you don’t gave him room for some of the waffling. Point is, men and women’s brains are very different. Maybe women’s are quite superior as seems to be suggested here, but they are different. I don’t think the clear differences are adequately reflected in much of what and how we try to communicate.

I hope you pick up a copy of this or at least visit the website. His site and his writing approach themselves provide great models as you seem him very clearly implementing the lessons he has learned from his years of research.

By the way, since paid blogging is getting to be such an issue, no, I have not been contacted by the author or publisher. I certainly would tell you if I was.