Monday, January 25, 2010

Is Traditional Media or Social Media Most Important in Haiti?

There are certain to be many studies of the Haiti tragedy relating to public information and how the government and those responding provided (or tried to provide) information about the response. No one can doubt that communication in this impoverished country is one of many of the immense challenges facing responders. But, what is more important in getting information to those both inside and outside of the shaken country? Traditional media or new media.

Two stories that came out yesterday carry two different messages, providing evidence for both sides of the debate. CNN World reported yesterday on the lifeline provided by a single Haitian radio station that stayed on the air despite all odds. In an article from the LA Times, we learn that much of the early information about the quake that reached the rest of the world came from social media. Anything having to do with earthquakes, information flow, preparedness of course is of considerable interest in LA. That juxtaposition was noted in this excerpt from the article:

With most of the area's power and phone lines down, a handful of Haitians used cellphones and some working Internet connections to report, in words and pictures, what they saw of the quake's devastation.
California authorities saw the same pattern in the minutes after a quake in Eureka earlier this month.

The role of public information in disasters such as this seems to increasingly discussed and of increasing importance to those in emergency management. On the Emergency Management website Jeanette Sutton posted a very important document on December 11 regarding the role of technologies in emergencies and conflicts. It should be required reading for everyone in emergency management. One simple story stuck out in this paper--about how a school girl had just learned the warning signs of a tsunami and warned her family to get to higher ground saving all their lives. Information saves lives. Information eases pain. Information is critical to effective response and recovery. It's not just about satisfying the curiousity of the TV watcher flipping through news channels while eating a TV dinner. Haiti perhaps better than even the tsunami or Katrina will show just how vital public information is and how much we are all hurt, and particularly those most affected are hurt, when it is not there.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gerald ... again a very interesting question. I think there is no definite answer. I believe, in fact, that we have reached a true milestone in the global convergence of traditional media and social media during emergencies.

    They are very much linked, even meshed together. And you can see evidence of that on all news networks, newspaper websites and on social media platforms themselves.

    This is a result of the growing need for immediate, accurate, and very importantly, actionable and emotionally-engaging information during a crisis or disaster.

    Long gone are the days of authoritative, one-way emergency information provided by the authorities. To join in on the many thousands of conversations going on online, you have to be heard.

    People will need to have the need to hear what you say because you are: relevant, prompt, accurate and able to build and maintain a connection with your audiences.

    You can do that in many ways, using both social and traditional media. In the end, they're both tools ... means to an end ... you have to use whatever works to be heard and believed ...

    In the earthquake's aftermath, I think we have witnessed that on a planetary scale. We had has hints of it in the past, the quasi-revolution in Iran comes to mind ... but never on this scale ...

    Challenges may be great but I think there's never been a better time to be a PIO ...