Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Where the wild things roam

Mysteries make for great novels. They also make for great conspiracy theories.

For PR, the dead birds in the South and a Navy captain's inappropriate video provide some great reminders. Like, how a story can get wildly out of control. Like, why PR plays such an important role in organizing and communicating meaningful information during the uncontrolled moments.

In short: damage control.

Like, immediately knowing the news media's "mindset." In many cases these days: The news media is quick to judge, quick to apply highly charged adjectives and quickly reach their own assumptions.

In short: Living in the world of open speculation. (And occasionally cast as a "news" story).

If left to our own devices, a certain percentage of us will go wild with a story like birds falling out of the sky. I know I did, very briefly, with the "mystery missile" launch in Southern California a few months ago. I was convinced it was a missile, but after the evidence came in, I agreed with the experts that it was an airplane's contrail.

If all we do is listen to broadcast news, a certain percentage of us will be led to a conclusion.

Ah, yes, evidence. It takes too long for the evidence to come in. Only lawyers will be restrained at the outset. They are trained to wait for the evidence. Trial lawyers, prosecutors and detectives can provide plenty of stories about how first appearances can generally be wrong.

The rest of us? We're ready to issue verdicts instantly. Human nature, at least in how we've become conditioned (see blow), is to seek conclusions more quickly. Or provide judgment and our own opinions. Have you read the number of reader comments to stories?

Reason and understanding thrown out the window?

In today's instant information age - we demand immediate answers. If we want answers, we Google it and usually land on Wikipedia. Who is that actor I see on my favorite show? Go to IMDB.com. How old is my favorite rock star? Did I just hear that my favorite celebrity couple just broke up? I betcha TMZ.com or CNN.com has it.

Facebook enables us to link stories of our liking and share with hundreds of "friends."

Online information is only good for "established" or frivolous stories. It doesn't work for emerging news or stories with too many unanswered questions. Our current "demand-for-information-instantly" mentality doesn't know how to handle delay or lack of detail.

A PR professional's skills and ability are only becoming more important.

In the case of the Navy captain, he became the latest victim of a video that was easily accessible. When will everyone realize that today, with emails, videos (Dominoes Pizza), even voicemail (Tiger?) it's best to stay clear of recordable material?

But in the latest incident, it doesn't help when Katie Couric openly asks in the CBS Evening News broadcast (Under "Navy Lewd Videos") "Does Captain Honors hold any chance of preserving his career in the Navy at this point?" Talk radio was alive with this story (and the dead birds).

The news media has the right to ask questions and investigate, but open speculation and pronouncements (instantly calling it a "lewd" video) only fuels a public mindset ready to instantly judge.

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