Read the following scenario and complete the following assignment:
As the public information officer for the county police department, you are called to the chief’s office to discuss an issue:
A police officer was detained yesterday following a crash with a school bus due to suspicion of driving under the influence. Reports are citing quoting sources that say that this officer has been pulled over three times before for driving under the influence, but nothing had been done because his “buddies” helped cover the incidents up.
The chief has asked that you prepare a statement for the news conference that will be held at 1:00.
Assignment: Choose a theory of crisis mediation discussed in this chapter and explain why you think it is appropriate for handling this organizational crisis. Based on the theory that you have chosen, develop a statement that can be used by the police chief to provide information to the public. Your completed document should be two to three pages.
Information about accessing the Blackboard Grading Rubric for this assignment is provided below.
News Framing Theory
The news framing theory recognizes that the way the story is told by the media impacts the way that people interpret and respond to the incident. How the media frames the story can impact the way in which a person not only views the impact of the incident, but also how they view the response of the organization. As would be expected, most organizations work to ensure that their response is being framed in a positive manner. However, the media has the opportunity to either accept the framing that the organization has provided or
UNIT V STUDY GUIDE Using the Media to Assist in Crisis Response
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reframe it in a manner that they feel is more appropriate (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). This is why different media outlets may frame the same event in different ways. One quantitative study found that when news is framed in a negative manner towards the organization that caused the crisis then people pay less attention to future stories, but when the news is framed to focus on empathy for the victims, then people tend to read the stories more closely (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). This can be important if an organization wishes to use the media to seek assistance from the public for response and recovery efforts.
Strengths and Weaknesses of News Framing
The news framing theory has long been utilized to better understand the role that the content of media stories plays and to make decisions on what information to release, and how. While this theory can potentially be used in multiple situations, it has been used in a limited manner, mostly for research of news and event publicity.
The use of the focusing event allows the media to draw attention to a specific issue or point which they feel has a high level of importance. Most focusing events have four identifiable characteristics. They are that the event occurs suddenly, is relatively rare, occurs in a large scale, and becomes known to the policy makers and the public at the same time (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). These events, such as Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima reactor failure, and the BP oil spill, created a public outcry and forced organizations to quickly recognize the situation and respond to the public’s urgency in finding solutions to the issues. In some of the research on the theory of focusing events there are three main characteristics of the communication associated with the theory.
The first characteristic is blame. Blame is assigned quickly following a crisis to be able to develop systems to respond and to improve organizational preparedness and response in the future. If the event is a natural event that leads to an inability to blame someone for the event, the media may look to blame someone for a negative aspect of response. For example, because Hurricane Katrina was an act of nature, the media focused on deficiencies in response. The second characteristic is normal versus new events. A normal focusing event is one that, while not normal, can be expected to occur at some point, such as a hurricane impacting coastal areas. A new event is defined as an event that has no expectation for occurrence and therefore has no level of comparison. One example of a new event is attack on 9/11. There were no events that could be used as comparison for assistance in determining response. The final characteristic is learning. Learning is characterized by changes in policy as a result of the impacts of the crisis. However, remember that learning can be tempered by policy makers who are faced with the cost impact of the policy changes.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Focusing Events
Focusing event research provides a consistent approach to understanding policy change as the result of a crisis impact. It provides a framework for analyzing policy change and assists in managing the debate that is often caused by recommended policy changes. One of the weaknesses, though, is that the focusing event theory is more descriptive in nature and not necessarily a structure that can be utilized to prepare and respond to the crisis.
Uses and Gratifications Theory
There are three primary reasons why individuals seek out information from the media: emotional release, wishful thinking, and advice regarding their personal lives (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). From this perspective, individuals are seeking gratification from the media. Among other things they are looking for reinforcement that their beliefs are acceptable, proof that their life is/is not bad, and support when times are tough. People form “relationships” with the people they receive their news from and as a result, the media is a strong link to communicate with people in the community. When crises occur there are social situations that may occur that actually drive people to seek out mass media. These situations often occur when a crisis impacts a community.
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These five factors of social situations are:
1. They produce tensions and conflicts, leading to pressures that people seek to reduce through mass media. 2. They produce an awareness of problems that cause people to seek media input for information. 3. They offer real-life opportunities where people then seek out media for “complementary, supplementary, or substitute servicing.” 4. They raise questions regarding personal values, and consumption of mass media either reaffirms or reinforces those values. 5. They create an “expectation of familiarity” with various media, which are then continuously monitored so as to maintain value with social groups (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013).
Each of these factors influences not only the public’s use of media, but also how an organization can use media during a crisis.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Uses and Gratifications Theory
The uses and gratifications theory is not a single use theory. It is best used to help develop priorities and assumptions, and then additional theories are used to develop response plans and expectations of behaviors. It does, however, build on the idea that the public is an active consumer of media and makes conscious choices about where and who their information comes from.
Crisis News Diffusion
The media is the primary method for diffusing information to the public, given the massive number of ways that it can be distributed. An important part of the crisis manager’s use of media is the recognition of which media outlets are the most popular, and how the public receives and processes information. A large number of theories exist regarding how messages are sent and received, and the best methods for sending information, so no one theory may fit all crises. A crisis manager must remember that the nature of the crisis itself may limit the ability to send and receive information. For instance, a weather event that causes massive power outages decreases the audience that will be reached using television so additional methods should be utilized.
One concern that crisis news diffusion research supports is the need for the public information officer of the agencies to form relationships with the news media prior to the crisis. The process may provide redundancy in plans to share information from the organization to the media and out to the public. If a relationship is formed prior to the crisis event, then the media may be able to better assist the organization in sharing the message. Additionally, consider the need to develop a relationship with the public through newer media aspects. For example, an agency that is going to use Twitter© as a way to share information, provide warnings and event updates, should open and use the Twitter© account prior to the crisis to ensure followers recognize the account as a reliable source for information.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Crisis News Diffusion
Crisis news diffusion provides research and data on how individuals receive and process information. It provides a better understanding for crisis managers and the media on the best way to reach and interact with the public. However, it is more descriptive in nature and does not necessarily provide a framework for developing media releases.
Diffusion of Innovations
The diffusion of innovations theory focuses on how individuals process information and implement innovations as the result of the crisis. The decision on which innovations to enact is viewed as a sequence of five steps.
The first step is the knowledge stage (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). This is the stage when an individual is exposed to and provided information about a new innovation. The second step is the persuasion stage (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). This is the stage where information can be provided to develop the individual’s positive or negative view of the innovation. These are the two stages where media plays an important role. If an organization utilizes the media during these stages appropriately, they may be able to direct the public towards action that benefits the crisis response. Step three is the decision stage (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013).
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This stage is when an individual chooses to either adopt or ignore an innovation. Step four is the implementation stage, which is the stage where, if an innovation has been accepted, it is put into practice. This stage may not be reached if the individual chose not to accept the innovation. The final stage is the confirmation stage (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). This is the stage where an individual seeks to confirm that they made the appropriate choice, and if that confirmation is not received, they then work to change their decision.
The research that has been conducted to understand how decisions are made regarding crisis-induced innovations has helped understand the communications process and assists the crisis managers in developing plans for communications. The public information officer may recognize that most of the individuals in their service area trust information shared through the television and utilizes this information to provide press releases regarding the crisis. Internally, the diffusion of innovations theory is also beneficial to understand that not only is the message important, but so is the person sharing the message. For example, a well-like firefighter may be a better message sender than a less-liked battalion chief. With that in mind, the fire department leadership may choose to get the buy-in of the firefighter regarding policy change so that he/she can spread a positive message regarding that policy change to others within the department. This may assist in getting all members of the organization to accept the policy change.
Additionally, researchers have recognized five characteristics that may influence whether or not an innovation is accepted by individuals. These are important to keep in mind when developing an innovation as a result of the crisis. The first characteristic is that there must be a relative advantage. That is, there must be a recognized benefit to the new innovation from the item it is looking to replace. Secondly, the innovation must be compatible with existing values, beliefs, and ideals of the individual and the organization. If they go against the organization’s current values or society’s perceived norms, then it is less likely that the innovation will be adopted. Additionally the innovation must not be overly complex. An innovation that is unable to be understood or easily implemented will not be easily accepted by individuals. The fourth characteristic that will influence the adoption of an innovation is the trialability of the innovation. Innovations that can be “test run” are more likely to be accepted by individuals. Trialability is best compared to the test drive of a vehicle prior to committing to the purchase. The final characteristic impacting adoption of an innovation is the ability to observe the impact of the new innovation. People are more likely to accept and implement an innovation that they know will produce noticeable improvements.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Diffusion of Innovations
Crises naturally create a need for change, which leads to the development of new innovations. As a result, there is a need to understand the process of innovation acceptance or rejection. However, many innovations are designed as a way to prepare and prevent crises, so the theory does not necessarily look at crisis response.
The media can make or break an organization’s response to a crisis. When relationships are formed prior to an event they can be used to strengthen the information flow from the organization to the public. Understand how the public responds to the media and their thought process as they seek out information can benefit an agency as they look to effectively and efficiently respond to a crisis, while engaging the public in the response and recovery operations.