Breaking news: a case study in handling it right

Developing crisis situations demand regular updates.  But all too often, communications professionals get too enmeshed in their own story, forgetting that not everyone is fully aware of the history of a given situation.  In that case, updates occur without context, leading to confusion by some readers.

As a reader, keeping track of the update cycle itself can also be fraught: without a photographic memory, it can be hard to tell if a press item has new information or if it is the  same release you read a few hours ago.

Crisis communications also brings with it a huge load of stress, so a communications professional who keeps a cool head and continues to deliver valuable information in a meaningful way is a huge asset to an organization.  That said, I have to applaud the communications people at the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA).  Reporting on your own tragedy is surreal and awful — I know, I have done it.  But they have kept a steady stream of information coming via their web site, and as their top story refreshed, they noted how many updates had been given to orient the reader in the news stream.

They also have not overwritten their news as the sad toll has mounted — their archives contain the string of releases they have put out, maintaining a good degree of transparency.

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