Monday, November 23, 2009

Media Panel Cites Importance of Digital Communications in Crisis Situations

Last week at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter Meeting, I organized and moderated a panel composed of four of the best energy journalists around: George Lobsenz, Executive Editor of The Energy Daily; Angie Pointer of Dow-Jones; Jim VanNostrand, Web Editor of McClatchy Newspapers; and Matt Wald of The New York Times. Attendees said it was one of the best sessions at the conference, which, of course, was completely due to the insights of the panel members.

One of the first questions was about reaching the media in an emergency situation. Matt Wald gave an answer that every communicator should pay attention to: any company dealing with the media and the public only via phone and fax during a crisis is asking for trouble. It takes Web-based communication, with its instant accessibility, to be timely and relevant. This doesn’t make the news release obsolete, but it does mean that it needs to be pushed electronically, posted on Web sites and constantly updated. And it should be augmented by other Web-based communications that push information to media and the public.

All the journalists agreed that scientists and engineers are great sources of technical information, but they need to present it in English rather than acronyms and “tech-speak.” Views on bloggers as sources of information were mixed, with all agreeing that they choose their information sources with great care

How to interest a journalist in covering your story? According to these panelists, ask yourself, “why should they care?” as you’re formulating your pitch. Editors like stories about people, counterintuitive facts and surprising anecdotes. That’s why The New York Times placed on Page One a story about a worker who walks through crucial areas of a nuclear plant every hour as part of its fire protection protocol, but put a story on a production record set by a nuclear power plant at the back of the far-less-read science section. The first offered more human interest.

Dan Yurman, a well-regarded blogger on nuclear energy, did a great job in covering this panel as well as another interesting session at the conference, sponsored by AREVA and attended by PCG’s Laura Hermann and Conor Bernstein, on blogging and other social media. The irony of mainstream media representatives being covered by new media makes me smile – and may have made some of them a little uncomfortable. Here is a link to Dan’s coverage and an ongoing conversation among his readers.

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