30th May2009

Communication Thoughts Case #1: Crisis Comms & Mainstream Media [updated]

by Dorothy

Case #1: H1N1 in Singapore

So the lowdown, as it literally unfolded on the web…..
The news broke on Twitter early in the morning. Something along the lines of this happened on my Twitter timeline. I will have to tell you that upon seeing the flight number, age of patient and time of arrival, my heart literally sank. For reasons disclosed right below in this post. For one, these people involved are my friends and faculty. Yes, I am from SMU. Yes, I know these guys personally. No, I was not and did not go on the trip. No, you will not get any personal contact numbers/info from me. Especially if I don’t know you. The keyword here used repeatedly is personal. Although given the conversations, the press has already been remarkably active in emails and the likes in trying to reach the students on the trip. Impressive but fyi did not make you particularly popular with them. There is a difference between a message that says ” Are you okay? i’m worried about you.” and “Are you okay? I want to tell x number of other people about this story!“. And people can tell.

Some good lessons:

It’s good to have a crisis communications plan in place.

Bottomline, in this case, I and any number of other people had pointed all queries back to our university’s Corp Comms office. I think in any organization, if there had not been any prior briefings, there might have been all manner of untruths out there because people’s assumptions are being taken as truth when a random sampling of opinions of people not even involved is sought. It is only natural that in times of breaking news, those in the relevant organization will be contacted for their opinions. If you are in the PR/communications department, do you have a contingency plan in place to address this scenario? Are you actively aware of what is being said about your brand/service/employees, etc?

Also, in SMU, we are kept constantly updated about what is being said about us in the news. Apart from the daily alerts about the general mentions of the school that every single student receives, the NY BSM students get forwarded articles in which the class is mentioned. This means that I have a gist of the articles that were previously written about the NY BSM in the news so I roughly know the database of information that the journalists have access to. Do you think this could be extended to become a practice in any other organization or company? I sure think so. This is useful information and at the very least, at least those in the communications department should all be aware of the past coverage on their organization. If only because that’s probably going to be the one of the starting points of reference when any research is going to be carried out on a new article.

Mainstream Media

I cannot believe that people from the various media bodies are just randomly calling up any SMU student they know, asking if they are a NY BSM student (the New York cohort has always been carefully pre-selected from hundreds of applicants) and expecting them to cough up personal contact numbers. You call me, I can totally understand why, given I could very well have been on that trip, and even on that plane, if I had decided to cut short my extension. But random shots in the dark? There has to be a better way to go about doing this. Also, please, try not to do the media version of ambulance chasing.

I also feel a bit like the papers put words in our mouths. I said nothing of the sort of being scared of contracting the virus as appeared in the papers. Which normal human being would want to get it? Yes, that might have been one of the reasons but if I didn’t say it, should it even be taken as fact? A sentence generic enough to be believable was assumed, and stated as true. The same thing happened in a past interview in the New Paper, in an article where I was interviewed about Twitter. Classic “I don’t remember saying that” situation and a feeling of being misquoted ensued. Nevertheless, this is still remains a small issue in comparison with the fact that a certain publication has named the student, something that I am truly disappointed about.

I have heard that there have been other cases of our students in this BSM class being “misquoted” in the papers. I have nothing more to say except that this only breeds even more mistrust so it is highly unlikely that I will speak to any reporter that I do not know personally in future situations that may be similar, simply because I cannot trust them to do the right thing.

As for finding out the actual identity of the student….If you need a visual analogy, the point is that when someone has fainted on the road, they need oxygen. All of the bystanders standing around cramming and trying to sneak a peek simply cuts off that supply. The student has asked not to be named. We want to respect that. If you were close enough to know who it was, close enough to care, you would have already known who it was. If not, let’s just give her some space

I noticed to date from all the coverage that a certain paper has named her – was that honestly necessary? She’s in stable condition, the rest who have taken tests in the States have all tested negative so far. Plenty of other people are arriving from business trips and holidays from the States everyday, maybe someone was sick but didn’t have the courage to head straight to a doctor precisely because they were fearful of having to deal with the media attention and repercussions. Maybe this was the most newsworthy angle? We want names when we want to find out who won the match, sports, elections. I am not sure how everyone benefits from the naming of the student in this case, because it seems to cause more stress for her from the media attention, and honestly does nothing much more for others not personally involved. And yes, I am disappointed as well in whoever it was that volunteered her name to the press. I will not add on anymore because these posts pretty much sum up what many people are talking about privately.

Real Time Search & Information dissemination

So. After the news spreads on Twitter, CNA site crashes due to the influx of traffic (everyone wants to know what’s going on). < Aside: The geek in me wonders about the wonders of cloud computing and why crashes still occur when scalability was promised, maybe they are not hosted on the cloud? Not my area, maybe someone can explain.> Then there was the Today online article. And then, there was the Straits Times version, and SMU’s prompt follow up.

The news is live, information added as people are doing their jobs and filling in the blanks very impressively. Retweets/replurks on H1N1 in Singapore are fast and furious. Not just on Twitter, but on several discussion threads on Plurk. And many more in the other news publications.

Ironically, the Google and Twitter face-off in the real time search space has never been more apparent than this. Twitter was all aflutter with the links to the news article about the first case. Google search results kept returning the ironic link to “SIngapore still free of H1N1” as top post no less. Something to chew on then, for the Googlers, if they want to retain all slices of the search pie. Quite different to read about North American examples of breaking the news, and to experience our own local Singaporean version. Digital ethnography at it’s best, then.

Full disclaimer:
I am the teaching assistant for the NY BSM class that was mentioned in the news. Our business study mission is one of THE best modules that we have at SMU, and in the case of the New York BSM, a chance at global exposure to some of the major media conglomerates in New York and interaction with people in the industry. No, I did not go to New York like I was slated to. For personal reasons, and after discussions with key stakeholders in my life. All these opinions expressed are my own. Thank you to friends who dropped a note and were genuinely concerned and thankful that I did not travel out.

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14th Feb2009

On the Principles for a New Media Literacy: My thoughts

by Dorothy

I was pretty interested in this thread on literacy in new media that has been started in our Digital Media Across Asia class, so here are some of my thoughts on the matter. It is a topic close to home, and also adds on nicely to my earlier posts on Journalism 2.0.

The original article by Gillmor can be found in it’s entirety here. Questions posed from our prof!

Question: What is a literacy? What is Gillmor talking about?

From my interpretation, I take the meaning of literacy as being able to understand a certain subject, to be well versed to communicate about it.

Wikipedia cites literacy as “the ability to read and write, or the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. In modern contexts, the word refers to reading and writing at a level adequate for communication, or at a level that lets one understand and communicate ideas in a literate society, so as to take part in that society.”

Wikipedia also portrays the problem of illiteracy as “a social problem to be solved through education.”

How this links back to Gillmor:
All of these elements are highlighted in Gillmor’s article in

  • His principles of media consumption (“reading”), Principles of media creation (“writing”)
  • Taking part (“Participation”)
  • Right at the end, Gillmor states that “If we really believe that democracy requires an educated populace, we’re starting from a deficit. Are we ready to take the risk of being activist media users, for the right reasons?” (education)

I feel that he is advocating the ‘education’ of the crowd in not just media consumption (as would have been important in the past, since all we did was largely consume our media), but additionally, media creation, now that the tools are widely accessible to all. People have to learn how to digest and make sense of all the information that is presented to them from various sources, and also to use and disseminate that information responsibly. This education is not complete nor thorough, since a large number of web2.0 users are still illiterate about how best to handle the changing media landscape and channels. Some people have yet to even jump on the Web2.0 bandwagon.

2. Why would digital media be important in SG society?

Some important points for me, with regards to the situation in SG:
#1 New media tools are pulling down some walls and helping to create the possibility of deeper nonlegal accountability.
This gives every citizen a choice, and a voice. Whereas previously, complaints and grievances might have been screened by the editors of newspapers before they could make it to print, nowadays, blogs and forums give one instant broadcasting rights to air your opinions.

I like the idea of nonlegal accountability because it suggests self governance, and also implies a more mature process of communication in which we do not have to rely on laws to trust that people will say/do the right thing.

With great power, comes great responsibility (think Spiderman!)
At the same time, we have to learn to be responsible. Emotional rants online about sensitive topics are no more appropriate than discussing the same offline. Do not hide behind the computer screen and feel like this removes you from all accountability for your words. The way I see it, don’t say online what you would not feel comfortable saying in person, in public.

The conversational style that blogs adopt means that more emotions get filtered through. Read, re-read your posts to make sure that your tone of language is not overly harsh/critical/emotional. The easiest solution I can think of is when truly in doubt, get someone else to read what you’ve written and see if it elicits any warning bells.

#2 The tools of creation are increasingly in everyone’s hands + #3 We can make what we create widely accessible
Power comes from being able to control the tools of production. Singaporeans can now take their opinions online and have a worldwide audience, not just local.
This is important for us because other people around the world get access to our thoughts, and can contribute experiences of their own. We are a very young country and can learn a lot from citizens where a more mature system of democracy, or “liberal traditions” are in place. We have to be willing to admit that sometimes, what we feel and think might be myopic in the grander scale of things. Opinions from sources overseas who are distanced from any vested interests are great for getting a sense of balance.

#4 The Concept of being Collaborators
We effectively become collaborators, with anyone in the world. We can find like minded people (not just in a local context), but also off our shores. This sets up a great foundation for brainstorming, and the “education” that Gillmor advocates can finally take place.

#5 Being Skeptical + #6 Going outside the Comfort Zone
Citizens need to become aware of something other than what’s happening locally. Once there is this awareness, perspectives change. It may lead to perhaps more demands on accountability and transparancy, more freedom of press. It could manifest in many other different ways.

If we are to move from an economy driven by mere efficiency to innovation, we need this increased sense of awareness of what is truly happening in the world. To learn how to be discerning about what we read, to understand that it is not enough to just depend on a single source for our “news”, and that combining this knowledge with other credible global sources helps to give a more balanced viewpoints, upon which we can make better decisions on.

I see digital media as a great catalyst where conversations and learning can take place for Singaporean citizens. It has always been a tricky situation whenever a “closed” or “sheltered” society opens up, because it is difficult to control how people will react to this new found freedom, and hard to trust that they are mature enough to use the power responsibly. But these are necessary risks that the government will probably have to monitor, if we are to remain viable. We are (arguably) still very comfortable with a government that we naturally turn to in times of crisis. But is it fair to ask that the government solve our problems all the time, or should we take more initiative ourselves?

Singapore simply cannot exist as a closed society, unlike some other economies of the world, because our sole resources are our people. If we want to have business dealings with our global counterparts, we need to understand more about them, and all the underlying intricacies of cross cultural communication.

Here is where digital media is great ….because (pardon the cliché) the world then is truly your oyster. No one dictates what you will “learn” from this channel, nor is there a fixed set of rules that you follow. You make up the rules. You learn as much as you want to, and along the way, information is constantly added and changing, and you learn about how best to deal with all this.

This flexibility of mind, discernment, coupled with the fact that there will be increased diversity in thinking (rather than producing a whole cohort of people who think and react the same way), I believe, is one step in the right direction in the education of Singaporeans to become more competitive in this fast changing day and age.

It may not be something that we consciously want, but it is something we need.

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29th Jan2009

Journalism 2.0 (Part 2) : What Journalists have got

by Dorothy

This is a continuation of my previous post on the changing landscape of Journalism 2.0, where I’m looking further into the tensions dynamics that exist between professional journalists and bloggers.

The whole point is, when I think about what “social media” is, as much as I’m beginning to hate that label, right after the community and connections, comes the tools that make these important elements possible. It is absolutely brilliant to read about how journalists (and not just bloggers) learn to harness these tools to collaborate online.

Here is a link on Facebook Journalism – some insights into the perception of credibility, trust and journalism…Facebook related.

We are beginning to see journalists and news/broadcast companies creating a significant presence on Facebook to engage with Facebook users and help facilitate this notion of the trusted referral to assist with the viral spread of content. When journalists can really engage with this audience and enlist Facebook users to market and share their content, that is such a powerful way to share credible news and information and tap into the implicit trust that people have with their friends.


If you can’t beat them, join them
In an information driven economy, news can hardly be considered irrelevant. Yes, knolls might seem to be sounding for the print editions (perhaps all that is needed is a new business model?) , but those who remember that at the very core of newspapers, apart from the advertising model that sustains it, is that they package information in digestible form. Information for which there is an ever increasing demand.

It is funny how power (or the potential loss of) drives much fear in groups of people. Those who held the tools of production used to wield significant power, right from the early days of the Gutenberg press which enabled mass access to printed material. Not anymore. Still, those with the professional expertise and credibility have a lot going for them.

If the professional journalists are uncomfortable at the speed that bloggers are getting the word out there, nothing is stopping them from utilizing the same tools to do likewise. The community spirit works just as well amongst professionals, as it does with amateur bloggers. However, unlike bloggers, they do not have to fight for press credibility, having already earned their stripes.


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12th Jan2009

Journalism 2.0 – The Changing News Landscape

by Dorothy

Early December, I had the privilege of being asked to share my online habits at Prof Netzley‘s workshop, Digital Communication for the PR Professional, and it was a blast. Both literally and figuratively speaking because the questions came fast and furious after the sharing. I’ll be dedicating a couple of blog posts coming up next on those issues that were particularly thought provoking.

One topic that kept surfacing was the comparison between digital and traditional media. The workshop participants were curious as to whether Gen Y preferred to read online or physical books. I’m probably learning towards being a digital native, but I’ll have to say that spending my formative years engrossed in story books means that I still prefer reading a physical book/paper. Other factors include the amount of material and type of information being presented.

Some of the questions raised:

  • Do you still read books? Yes.
  • Do you find that you read less now that most information is consumed online? Not really.
  • Where do you get your News? Hardly ever from the newspapers first hand.
  • What role does the traditional media play in your life? No TV. Newspapers only for extra information on current news that I’ve already seen on the web.

Journalism needs a new function
Breaking news no longer comes from the newspapers, but rather, is more likely to spread through microblogging sites such as Twitter and Plurk. I learnt about Obama’s win and about the Mumbai terrorist attacks from these platforms. Traditional news media (be it in paper form or online news sites) only comes in when I want to look for more in depth information.

If they are not breaking the news anymore, what can professional journalists do to remain relevant? On Sunday, a photography outing lead our group to a reporter from a local newspaper, who quipped that it was “embarrassing” that bloggers were breaking news stories, and that journalists themselves had to learn of the news through these citizen journalists. That got me thinking.

It is difficult to fight with the speed push button publishing (especially with an editor breathing down your neck and having to follow the dictated style of the paper you write for) but what journalists can do is to place all these information into context. Since the masses are already getting their news from elsewhere, traditional news sources can compete on accuracy of information, breadth of expertise, or even interviews with established authorities – all of which are weak links where blogging is concerned. Many thoughts were inspired by this excellent article, Journalism’s battle for relevance in an 
age of too much Information, which encourages journalists to consolidate the information out there and package it to “teach” the public.

Much like educational institutions, the best news organizations help people convert information into the knowledge they need to understand the world.

The tragedy of the news media in the information age is that in their struggle to find a financial foothold, they have neglected to look hard enough at the larger implications of the new information landscape—and more generally, of modern life. How do people process information? How has media saturation affected news consumption? What must the news media do in order to fulfill their critical role of informing the public, as well as survive? If they were to address these questions head on, many news outlets would discover that their actions thus far—to increase the volume and frequency of production, sometimes frantically and mindlessly—have only made things more difficult for the consumer.

The article goes on to suggest a polarization of behaviour. Those who are keen to be informed will take advantage of all the information accessible to them. Those who are passive simply moved away from these overwhelming sources of information, leading them to become even more uninformed than before.


Citizen journalism may be all the rage, but it is not without issues of its own. Incidentally, I found this journalism-related piece off Vic’s page, inspired by the article about how bloggers ought to try and win the conviction of the community instead of the government.

While we may relish the autonomy that seems to come with being able to pick from all the choices available to us regarding media consumption, having too many choices is not exactly a good thing. This only results in a cognitive burden.

Some things to ponder:
Research by Pablo Boczkowski, who teaches communication studies at Northwestern University, has revealed that when we consume news online we do so for significantly less time than in print and that we do it while we’re working.
News media must not only compete with one another, as well as with an ever-increasing assortment of information and entertainment options, but also with the very thing that supports their endeavors—advertising.

All of this only further confirms what we already know. Fatigue results as all the different sources compete for our attention. It is impossible to encode all the material that we encounter. Our coping mechanisms automatically kick in to screen out any information we deem peripheral.

In an age of infinite choices
Not too long ago, I was engaged in a great conversation with Mr E. who shared with me this gem of a sentence – In an age of infinite choices, the conviction then becomes being chosen in return. Granted, it was to address a totally different context, but it is no less applicable to this situation.

How, then, does traditional news media work towards being chosen, over all the possible distractions that the average cosmopolitan city dweller is exposed to? How, then, does a single blogger work towards being chosen, to be taken credibly alongside mainstream media? Is there even a need to work towards that?

Only time will tell.

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