Communication Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Massacre

Mansfield University is a small, rural, liberal arts campus in north central Pennsylvania. But our day was interrupted yesterday with requests from media for reactions. Today, more media requests and a department chair meeting that was filled with thoughts and concerns about our own campus. The Virginia Tech massacre made it sickeningly clear that something like this can happen anywhere, anytime.

In collegewebeditor’s latest post, Karine Joly shares thoughts from Joe Hice, AVP of marketing and PR at the University of Florida that are thought-provoking.

Every higher ed administrator in the country is trying to figure out how to get immediate messages to an entire campus in an emergency like this.

When Mansfield University experienced the anthrax scare in Feb. 2006 involving a musician from New York City, the NYC mayor held a press conference at 3 p.m. Even though we had sent an email out to all students before the press conference, a good number of them found out from their parents who saw the news on CNN, and called students on their cells.

Two sides of communication become very clear in the VT massacre. First, in a crisis like this, assessments and decisions must be made, followed by a call to action. I’m just not sure it can be done, no matter how many forms of communication we have.

Twitter has been mentioned as a possibility, but is not widespread at this point. And remember, if we were all having this discussion a year ago, Twitter was not even in the picture.

And I’ll guarantee, a year from now there will be a new “Twitter.”

Secondly, as Joe points, the citizen journalist has arrived. The hard rules of journalism and communication have become fluid and will continue to be.

In this case, cell phone videos are as common and as legitimate as the CNN footage. The sometimes grainy, grayish, jerky, unedited footage has an immediacy — and because of that a sense of honesty — that will forever compete with professional news.

I started my career as a newspaper reporter, as a lot of us did. In a crisis like this, competition for information and angles is fierce, even desperate. Is there a difference between interviewing the “man on the street” and the blogger?

Until a few years ago, hours were important to gather information and meet one’s deadline. Today, seconds are crucial. If you’re reporter under this kind of pressure, you’re going to find the people on the scene, the bloggers. You’ll find the people with seemingly inside information, the blogger. You’ll find the man on the street with an opinion, the blogger.

Two sides of communication. There are no fast answers anymore. We adapt in little steps as we struggle to keep up with the technology that continues to change the rules as it happens.

We’ll be talking about this for a long time.


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