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Media Matters: Podcasting, Vidcasting and other Online Media Tools, Tips and Trends » CNN

Posts Tagged ‘CNN’

New Media and Crisis Communication

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The current mess on Wall Street really has major web news sites on their toes. Let’s take a look at who’s doing what in terms of their new media strategy.

Audio features:

First of all, I noticed something new on the New York Times website today. They are running click-to-play audio features on the front page, under related stories. Under the headline “Senate Leaders Pledge Action”, they include a speaker symbol with a streaming 8-minute audio feature “Back Story with David Herszenhorn.” It comes from “Take Away” - a public radio program produced in conjunction with NYT.

The audio feature is simple radio-style production: a host intro with a little music, a few clips from yesterday’s broadcast coverage, and an extended interview with Herszenhorn that was clearly recorded by phone and only lightly edited.

Posting an audio feature to accompany a print piece on a website, blog or e-newsletter works for a few reasons:

- Some people absorb information better by listening rather than reading, so you’re allowing for different learning styles.

- Many web readers are browsing for information while doing other things (like work) and an audio feature lets them multitask.

- Voice adds a personal dimension – you can hear some emotion in the voice that gives another layer to the interpretation of the facts. For example, in this NYT piece, you can hear that the reporter is weary and concerned. We take in information on many levels – intellectual, emotional, sensory – so providing that extra dimension makes a story more memorable and more meaningful.

What didn’t work so well? This particular audio piece felt a little at odds with the NYT brand in terms of its style. The NYT has a strong polished style in terms of the writing and the visual branding – but the same isn’t true of these audio features, which are clearly produced by an outside radio station. It wouldn’t be hard to develop a NYT “signature” for these things and spruce things up a bit. Too often, mainstream sources tack on “new media” features without the same attention to polish and quality that characterize their primary content. (For example, the WSJ has its reporters filing web video stories lately, and the quality is all over the map.)

Blogging:
The NYT is also doing a good job with their blog discussion, talking directly with readers about their personal finances. The way they are using the blog forum is a model of new media crisis communications.

Compare the NYT approach to the way CNN lets readers comment in their “Sound Off” section at the end of major stories. (Scroll to the bottom of the story.) The comments are mostly a way for irate readers to indulge the anonymity of the web to spout off in tirades that don’t add much to the discussion. NYT by comparison sets up a separate forum for readers to voice their anxieties and hear back from the experts.

The moral of the story is to moderate and segregate.

Moderate: Especially during a crisis, public discussions need to be led and directed. Otherwise, the comments section becomes nothing more than angry graffiti scribbled all over your lead story. Knowing that someone knowledgeable is going to “talk back” is often enough to keep the discussion focused and articulate.

Segregate: Keep discussion comments separate from news. Don’t just tag on “comments” to the end of an important official story or announcement. Create a separate forum for discussion. Put a link near a provocative leading to a discussion blog. A news story and a discussion with readers each have their own distinct tone and purpose – don’t mix them up.

One final note: what we like about all of the above is the focus on authenticity. It’s exciting to watch mainstream news sources embrace new media as way of introducing less scripted, more subjective, more authentic comments from reporters and readers alike.