Occupy the Media

It’s funny, as more and more of my job becomes about dealing
with the “real media,” the more evidence I see elsewhere that they’re
not the future of public information dissemination. And while some
PIOs will blame that change on members of the media, I think it has
more to do with the amazing state of the art in citizen journalism.
For example…

The amazing Xeni Jardin, of
boingboing.net recently talked on the
Madeline Brand radio

about what she calls the “backpack journalists” of the Occupy
protests. Ms. Jardin posted a quick

on the gear used by these folks, and it is nothing like what Jim

A cell phone. And maybe some backup batteries. And that’s it.

And they’ve broadcasted live for up to 21 hours. To up to 31,000
simultaneous viewers.

Mind you, this isn’t CNN, either, where everyone has that channel
number memorized. You’ve got to seek it out and deal with herky-jerky
livestreaming. Wait till these “backpack journalists” start to get
more user friendly distribution channels (YouTubeLive, anyone?), and
that’s when the media will really start to flip.

I did a bit more digging and found Ms. Jardin’s interview with Tim
, a citizen
journalist overnight the OccupyWallStreet protests in NYC. This is a
definite must-read (and if Ms. Jardin’s cheerleading isn’t your cup of
tea, keep reading, if only to learn about the video streaming drone
they’re planning on deploying).

This interview cemented in my mind how the modern media is losing
relevance. As more and more of the public are confronted with half- or
limited-coverage due to overly restrictive police cordons and access
rules and dwindling newsroom staff, they will seek out—and find—full
coverage elsewhere. This is just the start. If Occupy does nothing
else, it might just hasten the new media paradigm.


Digital First Responders

A new Twitter friend popped up yesterday, and boy did he
jump into the deep end. Mr. Poirier goes over the why (and more
importantly, how) social media should be integrated into the
day-to-day of your friendly neighborhood

He boils it down to four points: 1) Be the official source, 2) Open
the two-way street, 3) Be honest, and 4) Recruit, standardize and
innovate. I have no quibble with any of them. In fact, I don’t know
any governmental PIO who would argue with numbers one and three.
Number two is a sea change that many will come around to eventually
and number four? This is the area that, while not wrong, could use the
most fleshing out and is something I’m actively investigating and hope
to update you all on shortly.

Mr. Poirier uses the Red Cross quoted term, “digital first responder,”
as a possible way to surge our public information staff. I’ve been
working with some emergency managers on the idea of a “virtual
operations support team,” or VOST to do just that. It’s a really neat
idea that ends up being a trust exercise done on a high wire. Scary,
but once it works, man do you have a powerful tool.

The thing I wanted to comment on specifically here was Mr. Poirier’s
term, “digital first responder,” though. While I’ve heard the term
many times before, it never jogged a specific memory before today, and
what a powerful image it presents.

Thanks to the amazing public safety sector here in Philadelphia, I’ve
had the opportunity to hear from folks in Magen David Adom, the
Israeli EMS organization. They cover the entire country and, as you
can imagine, are stretched to the breaking point with such an amazing
charge. They have developed a volunteer corps that is actively
integrated into day-to-day activities of the MDA, the first
responders. Regular, everyday citizens with specialized training and
24/7 notification ability. When something happens, MDA dispatch
contacts the first responders closest to the scene and, if they’re
available, they respond. And start sizing up the situation, and start
administering aid if necessary. They are in contact with central
dispatch the whole time.

This digital first responder could very much be the same. A deployable
volunteer with special training that is actively integrated into our
responses. They’re most likely to spot the initial problem, be closest
to the scene and available to help. By working closely with your PIO
(central dispatch), they could start assessing the situation,
collecting and correcting rumors, and issuing official, approved
messages HOURS before the JIC is set up.

What an amazing parallel! Thanks so much, and well met, Chris!

Definitely check out his blog at

Update from Nedra Weinreich for those of your interested in the work that MDA does. Apparently, there is a similar volunteer EMS service that is run by chapters around the world called Hatzalah. Just goes to show that with volunteers and a need, anything can happen.

One Year Anniversary SMEM Report Released

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you understand that social
media is increasingly becoming a part of all of our lives, whether or
not we hold accounts or participate personally. By the nature of the
social media, others using it influences how they act.

And boy are others using it.

It’s become such a hot topic that, earlier this year, the fine folks
at the National Emergency Management
allowed some social media
thought-leaders the opportunity to hold a series of workshops about
social media’s use in emergency management, preparedness and response.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to that day and met folks who
are the drivers of the movement to integrate social media into
emergency work; truly, my heroes.

On that day, there was also a team of researchers from CNA Analysis
and Solutions
on site to collect information on
the proceedings and produce a white paper on the subject of social
media and emergency management. That white paper is being released

In an effort to highlight some of the most important parts of the CNA
white paper, a number of emergency management, public information and
homeland security bloggers are posting about parts of the report that
resonate with them. Once those posts go live, I’ll do my best to
update this post and link to them. I, as you can guess, immediately
wanted to talk about how social media affects our messaging in a
positive way. (Beyond teaching PIOs how to think in 140-character

The first, and probably most important, improvement to our messaging
as a result of using social media is the ease of developing a constant
media stream. Due to forced character-count limitations, we cannot
dispense messages in a traditional press release format; we’ve instead
got to just push out the update, as directly as possible. I think this
is a good thing for a couple of reasons: first, it expands the
audience for your message. While the media might benefit from the
comprehensiveness of a press release, most of the public can’t read
them, but would appreciate short, two-sentence-long updates explicitly
about the situation or topic. Second, short messaging allows you to
build a timeline of your incident. Outside of actionable
recommendations that should be repeated, updates can be posted once
and referred to. What a great way to supplement your IAP!

Another way social media has changed our messaging is what the CNA
report refers to as “force multiplication.” Due to the ease of sharing
social media messages (which is built into every social media
property), our messaging does not have to reach every single person in
your public first-hand. Every person that does receive your message
and finds it interesting or useful has the opportunity to share it
with their friends, thereby increasing your reach exponentially. Aside
from simple person-to-person sharing, I believe that a certain element
of trust comes into play as well. As fewer and fewer people trust
government messaging, hearing a message from self-selected friends and
close acquaintances increases the chance that people will listen and
integrate the message.

Finally, I think the coolest thing about how our messaging can change
is that we can now talk directly to our publics. Like those
much-maligned direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical commercials that
increased sales, we can now go around the traditional information
gatekeeper (in our case, the media). We now have the opportunity to
put out those supposed non-story stories, we can now avoid what
politicians are calling the “media filter.” We don’t have to depend on
what the news producers feel has “made the cut” for their broadcasts.
We can finally push out those good stories that we wish the public
would know about.

These changes being wrought are the perfect example of a sea change.
Be sure to download the full report here to
learn all about the future of our jobs.