In a sign of how far the traditional media still has to go in understanding the legitimate role and value of online media, including blogs (even as these outlets establish their own blogs), as well as how preconceived perceptions are often reported in even respected national media outlets, we’d like to note a weird little observation in the Washington Post:
Speaking of FEMA Chief Craig Fugate’s encouraging words that more must be done to spark public participation in emergency preparedness, and how Fugate was touting new media and Gov’t 2.0 resources, the Washington Post reports that Fugate hosted a call specifically with bloggers and online media and that it was “one of the first times a DHS official has hosted a forum exclusively for online journalists.”
Uh, wrong. Secretary Chertoff launched a series of Blogger Roundtables that were generally viewed as groundbreaking and critical to improving transparency and government interaction with the public. Chertoff himself held several such roundtables and calls, as did multiple heads of various DHS agencies — FEMA being key among them.
One suspects that the Post writer’s comment is due to a lack of familiarity with DHS in general as well as the generally accepted notion that the Obama Administration is fundamentally altering the communications landscape. In general, I’d agree with this latter assessment. However, it’s important to recognize that DHS in general — and FEMA in particular (along with the TSA and the Coast Guard) have been leaders in the realm of Gov’t 2.0 and stronger public communications for a few years now.
This isn’t merely to harp on the Post for making a simply mistake. It is a critical development that organizations comprising DHS, especially FEMA, which are responsible for communicating with the public during periods of crisis, are successfully adopting the modes of communications increasingly embraced by the public at large. There is no effective crisis response without effective crisis communications, and there can be no effective crisis communications without making use of these new tools. They are the reality of a rapidly changing media landscape.
Mr. Fugate should be applauded for carrying forward FEMA’s assertive use of social media, and we encourage Secretary Napolitano to resume the roundtables initially implemented by her predecessor. As Chertoff noted toward the end of his tenure — he overcame an initial skepticism of such media events, as he came to understand that they were usually attended by well-informed observers, and even recognized experts, within the the homeland security environment, and the conversations therefore often focused on serious policy issues rather than soundbites and the political distractions of the day that so often consume mainstream reporters.