Crisis and Media Discussion (Revisited)

Life is beginning to return to ‘normal’ here in New York City.  I realize that is somewhat easier for me to say given that I live on the Upper West Side (vs. downtown for example).  We never lost power, cable or internet access. Damage in our neighborhood was limited to a few downed trees and the like.  The subway is still closed and my office downtown in inaccessible - both of which are a hassle, but certainly not a tragedy. Overall, the disruption to our school, work and similar schedules is the biggest challenge we have had to address.  I feel very fortunate indeed.

Like many others, I have been tracking Super Storm Sandy closely over the past few days, especially by consuming as much media – traditional and social, real and fake - as I could find.  My interest in disasters is fueled, at least in part, by my curiosity around how our society plans for, deals with, and responds to disasters.  As a part of my work, I think a lot about how technology and the internet impact the ways we get/share information – and especially what happens during crisis.  If anything, my personal connection to this event offered an additional lens through which to analyze everything that has happened.

One thing you realize quickly when you monitor disasters, humanitarian and otherwise, is that the media response to these events varies significantly.  Super Storm Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the United States, so it likely would have received significant coverage regardless.  But, the fact that the storm hit, among other places, New York City - the center of the media universe - guaranteed that coverage was, and will continue to be, more extensive than other similar events.

It begs the question… while every humanitarian crisis/disaster inflicts enormous pain and suffering, why doesn’t the media doesn’t give them similar attention?  And what impact does that have on how we understand, appreciate, prepare and respond when these events unfold?  What would be different about how we prepare for, deal with, and recover/rebuild after a crisis if our media coverage was different?


Almost two years ago, on February 28, 2011, I moderated an event sponsored by CauseShift and Oxfam International.  We gathered leaders from the humanitarian aid sector together with innovators inside and outside the sector for a special two-hour event/discussion about the media’s role during crisis. We challenged those who gathered to create new ways for humanitarian agencies and the media to keep people engaged in real-time and over the longer-term.

The event featured series of one-on-one interviews.  After this 'conversation gauntlet’ set the tone for the discussion, participants broke into teams and brainstormed solutions based on the following questions:

  1. How do you explain a disaster in real-time?
  2. How do you create a marketplace to more efficiently identify needs and match them with resources?
  3. How do you keep 1 million people interested one year later?
  4. What do we need to STOP doing during disasters?

Below you will find videos/transcripts of the interviews I conducted during the event, as well as notes/details from the solutions session.

Moderator Preparation:
Research Links

Conversation Gauntlet transcripts and videos:
Ayesha Khanna, Hybrid Reality Institute
Kathleen Hessert, Exercise 24
Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Stephen Cassidy, UNICEF
The Conversation Gauntlet (videos only)

Breakout Team Ideas:
Answers to the Four Main Questions

(You can find more information here:


These conversations should be outdated – two years is an eternity in today’s fast-moving, constantly changing, rapidly evolving, 24-second-news-cycle driven world.  But as you read through the notes, you probably get the feeling, as I did, that not much (or at least not enough) has changed over that time.  I am confident we are getting smarter and adapting our behaviors in preparation for the next major event.  But I also think we can learn a lot more, and more quickly, and move more quickly to update our systems and approaches to dealing with these events.

Let me know what you think.