Playing Our Part
April 19, 2013
Okay, I'm distracted by coverage of the Boston manhunt. So are you. And because of that, I'll keep this reasonably brief. What say we just talk about a few takeaway observations from the events of this week? Good, because that's all I got.
I thought a lot about what radio's role in a situation like this has become, now that there are so many other sources for breaking news. And I'll assume here that you're not at the heart of the story with a full news staff deployed to dig up the facts -- unless, in this case, you're WBZ or WBUR or a network news department, for example. Here's what I came up with:
- Curation. There's never been more information available, but as we've seen more than once this week, a lot of it isn't exactly reliable. You can collect it all and pick out the good from the bad, and point out when something isn't verified. If everyone else is running with a tweet or a Reddit post, you can be the voice of reason.
- Context. You can take all the pieces coming in -- network and local reports, TV, tweets, Facebook posts, whatever -- and frame them so that people understand what it all means. Of course, it'll help if you can figure that out first. That's not easy.
- Engagement. Put listeners, eyewitnesses, whoever you can find on the air. There is a value in hearing someone, in their own voice, talk about something that can't be captured in a tweet and isn't enhanced by video. I heard some local Boston shows doing exactly this, taking calls from the nervous, sad, and freaked out, and it can be more compelling than watching cable news anchors and reporters standing in the street repeating what little they know, and way more compelling than scanning your Twitter feed to find a zillion partisan comments and the same links to the same traditional media reports, over and over.
And if there's anything else to be learned from this week for radio, it's to have your emergency plan in place and ready at a moment's notice. Some stations were great, others clearly don't have a plan. And, Friday morning, when Boston went on lockdown, I was embarrassed to hear some stations playing music and just briefly mentioning the situation -- that's when you have to be there for your listeners. And if the argument is, well, the city was locked down and we couldn't get anyone to the station, why isn't an alternate means of feeding programming to your transmitter in your emergency plan? Shouldn't there be an ISDN or some other remote plan in place? Yeah, it costs money, but too bad, station owners -- you can't argue that you're essential in emergencies and then not spend money to ensure you can cover an emergency under any circumstances. Backup power, alternate studio locations, vehicles that can get anywhere in any weather, connections to other news sources like TV stations... you gotta have all of that, and a plan designating who does what and when. You'd think this would be standard, but I guess it isn't.
So, we're good for the next massive news story? We know what we need to do and how to do it, right? All right, then. Let's hope we don't need it. Oh, and one more thing: There's no prize for being the first to make a joke about a tragedy. Too soon or not, you don't need to rush to make light of it. It can wait.
Okay, another reminder: This year's Revlon Run/Walk for Women in Los Angeles is coming on May 11th, and my wife Fran, a cancer survivor of seven years, and I will be participating as we do every year to celebrate survival and raise money through the Entertainment Industry Foundation for research and services dealing with women's cancer. Your donations will be appreciated, and here's how to do that: go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2013. Thank you!
There IS other news going on, and you'll find all of it at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where there are hundreds of stories and comments compiled with radio in mind. Get ideas for your show by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. It's free. Also, read "10 Questions With..." sports talk titan Tony Bruno, back home in Philly at 97.5 The Fanatic and as honest and opinionated as ever. You definitely don't want to miss that one.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com. And please watch "The Nerdist" on Saturday night at 10p (ET) on BBC America (or Sunday at 7p (ET) on Space in Canada). It's Elijah Wood and Ben Schwartz ("House of Lies" and "Parks and Recreation") this week.
Okay, NOW can we bring this week to an end? I don't know about you, but I've had more than enough....