Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fish, Relatives and the News Media in Newtown

            There’s a wonderful old Swedish wife’s tale saying that fish and relatives begin to smell after being around for five days.  We can now say that the same is true of the news media in Newtown, now well beyond five days.  It’s time to extinguish the broken, blinking “Breaking News” signs; time to pack up, bail out, and allow the town to grieve on its own.
            The coverage began with the bizarre guesswork phase, which happens in all mass tragedies.  Most every early tidbit vehemently stated as “fact” had to be withdrawn or disowned in the first 48 hours.  On Saturday, the day following the murders, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had conflicting front page headlines with respect to the number of victims. 
           Then comes the predictable solution-finding phase where any real information continues to blur as swarms of consultants, so called “experts” and visibility-seekers buzz like flies on old fish around the location, the news studios, and the town before knowing anything reliable about the underlying circumstances.
            We’ve now entered the even more bizarre mass fabrication stage where the vacuum of information, which often happens in criminal investigations, is rapidly filled by program after program, interview after interview of people over analyzing and making things up when very little new information about what’s really going on actually exists. Yet, just like your relatives, they fill the airwaves and newspapers with extraordinary amounts of conflicting, irrelevant, and excessive amounts of useless content and just won’t go away.
            Some of the fabricated stories erroneously involved Autism Spectrum Disorder, or profiling the mentally ill.  These are powerful, emotional spears of pain and fear carelessly and callously tossed through America’s heart.  To date, there is no apology, no recognition of the extraordinary pain these mistakes have caused millions of American families.
            The New York Times on Monday ran a nearly full size illustration of the semi-automatic rifle used in the murders.  The illustration was annotated with detailed instructions and information about the gun, presented almost exuberantly.  What on earth is this doing in the newspaper?  Who needs to know this information?
            Yes, a national debate on guns has been re-ignited.  As usual, the winner of that discussion remains to be seen.  Will it be the people of America or the National Rifle Association?  One hopes against hope that our central government can demonstrate that there are times when they must act in our interests rather then protecting those of special interests. 
            Now it is time to toss out the fish, say goodbye to the relatives, and herd the media out of town. Time to go, Greta.  Time to pack it in, Wolf, and let the town have its self back again so real recovery can begin.
            Some kind of extraordinary panel of journalism experts and the public should examine just how events of this magnitude should be covered.  Perhaps some guidelines need to be developed and shared with the public that  demonstrate the kind of reporting, which most of us want the media to accomplish, and how to demonstrate some sense of restraint and consideration for the victims and survivors. 
            The public really has no clue about how aggressive, abusive and coercive producers, editors and reporters can be in the struggle to get something said or to say themselves during these mega story circumstances.  This feeding frenzy needs to be disclosed, discussed and explained as well.
            This story has clearly touched the soul of our nation.  That, in today’s America, is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Now it’s time to back off and let the system and society absorb all of this stuff, sort it out, and let someone, not driven by screaming daily headlines begin to really determine what the next steps ought to be.

-- James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
By James E. Lukaszewski

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Managing the Victim Dimension of Large-Scale Disasters


ABSTRACT: The most volatile component of all crisis response is victim management. Failure to promptly, humanely, and empathetically see that victims’ needs are met will eclipse an organization’s response, and even a flawless response will be remembered for its angry survivors, relatives, public officials, sometimes competitors, but almost always the critics. The two most crucial ingredients of crisis management are effective and accurate communication and then prompt resolution of the issues surrounding victims. This paper familiarizes and sensitizes technical expert readers with the extraordinary impact and emotional power victims bring to any crisis situation. Some important techniques and approaches are discussed, including the nature and causes of victimization and why victims have so much power; the behavior of management and its advisers that triggers, initiates, or prolongs victimization; what victims feel and why they tend to act and remain so upset; and what victims need—validation, visibility, vindication, and extreme empathy/apology—along with constructive strategies that can resolve these different situations quickly and often avoid litigation. When disaster strikes, we do get glimpses of the physical and infrastructure damage, but the news and most of the pictures are about the victims. If anything, while the broken facility, structures, and topography of the land or substructure of the earth do get talked about, it is the relentless pictures, descriptions, interviews, commentary, and desperation of the victims that determine the coverage, the public consciousness, and the legacy of the tragedy. The most glaring deficiency in the crisis and business recovery plans I review each year is the absence of a victim management strategy.

Read the full article here.

Published OCTOBER 2012, Leadership and Management in Engineering. By James E. Lukaszewski

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