PRSA CONFERENCE: Crisis comms experts indicate reporting as area lacking in quality

SAN FRANCISCO: According to a trio of experts, crisis communicators are challenged by a lack of quality in national-security reporting post-September 11.

SAN FRANCISCO: According to a trio of experts, crisis communicators are challenged by a lack of quality in national-security reporting post-September 11.

"What I see today is reprehensible," said Tim Doke, VP of corporate communications for American Airlines, adding that he spends "80% of his time talking reporters off ledges."

The comments came during a panel discussion at the PRSA conference last week. Also speaking were Brigadier Gen. Ron Rand, US Air Force director of public affairs, and panel moderator Gil Schwartz, EVP of communications for CBS.

While Rand expressed a more positive view of national-security press coverage, he lambasted "talking head" reportage and the rise of pundits as a negative aspect of the media.

Schwartz added that the media has "a public trust not to sell panic or confusion."

Schwartz and Doke also discussed the challenges they face reaching media through non-traditional channels during crises. For Doke, that situation arose when authorities restricted American's messages both during the September 11 crisis and regarding shoe bomber Richard Reid. CBS faced a similar issue over anthrax contamination in its New York office.

American managed to get its message out by enlisting third-party spokespeople not directly associated with the airline. The company also gave important details to employees via a hotline number. However, American's communications team knew reporters had access to the call-in line, and posted the number prominently on its website.

Schwartz outlined a similar strategy used by CBS during the anthrax crisis, when the network declined to comment directly. Instead, CBS held a town-hall-style meeting for employees hosted by Dan Rather, which other media had access to.

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