Gone fishing

by Hal Newman

Last evening I exchanged notes with a well-regarded television journalist who seemed to be actively refusing to acknowledge the importance of news-on-the-net via social media as a real-world alternative to the nightly newscast.

The discussion was surreal at best. She truly believes ‘we’ need her and her colleagues to be our filter because we can’t understand the facts on our own. ‘We’ need journalists to decipher the code for us.

When I mentioned that near-real-time situational awareness already exists via the net her reaction was almost comical were it not so damned tragic: She warned me about the dangers of too many fragmented views.

My friend Andrew Fielden [follow him on Twitter @AndrewTF] reminds me on a regular basis that no one service provider can have a monopoly on the sources of the data.

He attended last week’s Media140 gathering in London and among the many comments he made afterwards was that “Twitter itself is seen as the latest threat to the media in that it appears to allow people to go direct to the source in real time and create an instant news thread which require only the presence of the microblogs and linking through to blogs and other supporting digital elements.”

So what happens when the ‘great unwashed’ are unleashed and able to generate news of their own making? Are there any guarantees that what they produce will be any less important than that which is professionally produced in a multi-million dollar studio?

I think not. Often, I am struck by the incredibly poor job the ‘professionals’ do at communicating a story. Last week, I read an op-ed in the Washington Examiner wherein the name of a man who was sent to Syria and tortured because he was mistakenly suspected of being a terrorist was replaced by the name of a man awaiting trial for allegedly killing an American medic in Afghanistan. Do not disturb with the facts. Professionals at work.

In emergency management, we talk about situational awareness as if it were the holy grail and in many ways it is. That ability to sift through multiple streams to pull the essential nuggets out on an ongoing basis is at least as important as the ability to craft a compelling narrative to ensure the information can be shared effectively.

However, the key to gaining that type of perspective is knowing what kind of nuggets you need to be fishing for at that moment in time – or more importantly, for the next several moments in the future.

Retired Canadian Forces Col. Richard Moreau [now a VP with Ottawa-based Prolity] teaches a serious ‘leadership in crisis program’ that emphasizes the need for intelligent awareness. According to Richard, if you don’t provide guidance on what you’re looking for, don’t be surprised when your intel crews come back excitedly proclaiming, “We’ve got cod! We’ve got cod!”

At some point, you’re going to have to explain to them that you were looking for swordfish.

Which brings me back to my exchange with the television journalist. I’m not sure what she’s fishing for, because of course, there’s no way for the collective ‘us’ to provide her with guidance on what we believe is important. It was clear in the course of our brief conversation that she thinks she knows what we need to learn and that we would be lost without these self-anointed guides. She mentioned words like ‘trust’ and ‘credibility’ however left out key terms like ‘depth of understanding’ and ‘real-world expertise.’

So, I go fishing on my own, looking for a spectacular mix of views, opinions and facts from which I will draw down my own intelligent situational awareness.

I don’t need a nanny journalist to ‘sort it all out’ for me every evening.