How to Professionally Deal with Crisis

By: Savanna Ronco

In mid-October, Andrea Miller delivered a guest lecture on crisis communication to our Environmental Communication seminar class. Miller has decades of experience in the TV business and also as a producer. She has spent the last 12 years with the LSU Manship School as associate dean of undergraduate admissions.

“Mass Communication does breaking news very well,” Miller said. “What I mean by that is that we play an important role during normal times but that role is significantly increased during times of crisis.”

For example, during times of massive crisis (such as the BP Oil Spill or Hurricane Katrina) people turn to the media for information. If the crisis is local, local news stations and newspaper become extremely important.

In fact, Miller says that many people argue that the job of local media goes beyond just information transmission. They also become responsible for linkage (linking viewers to things and organizations that can help them) and social utility (helping viewers cope; giving them the sense that everyone is in this situation together).

“Certain elements of crisis are predictable, even if the most unpredictable circumstances, and it is helpful to get ahead of them,” Miller explained to the students.

Using the BP Oil Spill as an example, Miller asked the class what images they associate with the spill. The first answer: a bird in the Gulf, covered with oil. This is exactly the answer Miller was looking for, as she switches her Powerpoint slide to the exact image the students were all picturing.

“These times of pictures are called ‘conventional imagery’,” Miller said. “A bird covered in oil, people being rescued off of rooftops during Hurricane Katrina, police tape when talking about a murder… These are the images that people automatically associate with disaster.”

The way to get ahead of the game, Miller said, is to anticipate these conventional images, and have sources and potential interviewees on deck for when they are necessary. So, if as a journalist, you know that these pictures of birds covered in oil are going to come out, you’re going to want to contact a bird expert immediately. This way, you’ll have immediate, valuable coverage.

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