Amid tragedy, some thoughts on crisis communications

The shootings in Norway last week remind us of the often tense role that media and communications departments play during the fallout of a tragedy.

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You have to weigh the public’s right to know with the stark reality that some information will invariably further traumatize the victims or jeopardize the investigation. I wish the media and communications professionals working the tragedy in Norway over the next several weeks and months the best of luck, and I hope they will be all too aware of these pitfalls.

As an editor in charge of reporters covering the 1999 Columbine High School shooting rampage, I was forced to question the media’s role in the days and weeks after the incident. Even the most grizzled reporters came back to the newsroom in tears when parents created a human wall between their children and the media, hurling insults and begging reporters to let their children go back to classes in peace.

On the flip side, Ramonna Robinson worked as a media contact for one of the law enforcement agencies involved in the shooting. Robinson, vice president and managing partner at Denver’s GroundFloor Media, was in a similarly stressful situation.

The public, including parents of victims, wanted to know how this tragedy could happen. In her role, Robinson says that despite the pressure, it was best to let the investigation take its course and present conclusive information rather than only pieces of the puzzle.

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