Keeping the news in our front rooms

I read something today that made me sad and worried at the same time. There is apparently some discussion taking place that could see the BBC News Channel moved to purely an online output. This is at a time when the BBC is under pressure to reduce costs and review the service it provides.

It would be a dark day if the only way to access BBC news is through the Internet. The fact that you can access updates about events around the world through your television is something I believe is incredibly important. Of course the world is moving on and people access TV content through computers and access websites through their televisions. The reason I am bothered about this is that there is a generation who don’t understand about how news is gathered, shared and how to evaluate it.

In recent weeks I have been able to talk to young people considering careers in journalism, public relations and the media. They have shocked me by how unaware they are but also that they don’t seem interesting in questioning things. I remember (not that many years ago) when I was a teenager I would want to know how the news is gathered, what makes a good story, why do we hear about some things but not others, how can I trust what I see, hear and read in the news. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be something that potential communicators are considering.

For me news has to be at the centre of life. It has to be something discussed with friends, it has to be in the conversations with work colleagues and it should be in the centre of our homes – inside the television. It is my hope that if we can introduce news channels into our daily lives then we will be informed but also take a critical interest in what is being covered. I am concerned that communications may struggle to evolve and develop if the next generation are not able or willing to question.

We all need to encourage people to take notice of the events around them, to be interested in what is happening and above all to keep discussion about news within our front rooms.

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I love my work, even during my holiday

I love my work. No, really I love what I do and there is always something positive to take away from each day in the office. I know I sometimes moan about the little things that frustrate me or the fact I have too much to do in each working day, but despite all that I am lucky to be able to say that I enjoy my job.

I was reminded about how much I love my job a few times this week, and not least because I have had a week away from doing it. Holidays are great even for those who love what they do. It is by taking some time away from the daily pressures that you can start to see things in a different light. Stepping out of the frantic activity gives you the chance to review from an outside perspective. That problem that has been plaguing you can sometimes be quite easily resolved when you have a bit of time and space.

The break also allows you to rebuild and strengthen again. I find it is a way to disconnect but strangely to also reconnect with the work and why I want to do it. When I leave for a break I have to accept that I am going to be detached from what is happening. Ok, so I have still been checking my emails every day, but I have not been able to get my hands dirty and get involved in what is happening. As is often said absence makes the heart grow fonder and it is true. I stop being caught up in the minor annoyances and instead reconnect with why I love the job.

I had the chance to discuss my work with pupils at a local school this week. It was part of an introduction to the world of work and a lunch meeting where they can learn more about different occupations and professions. I love being able to talk about the work I do now and that I have done in the past. We covered everything from what you have to do to be a mounted police officer through to how the media get news. It is incredibly hard for young people now who face some really difficult choices to make at a very young age and I wish I could do more to help them.

Being able to talk about my job during my holiday summed up what this week has meant for me. It has been about reconnecting with why I enjoy what I do, and trying to explain this to others and excite them about the world of professional communications. I needed a short break not just to relax and recover but also to reconnect.

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Leadership means keep learning

Leadership is a much overused and a little understood word. In these times of financial challenges and reductions in staff we are often hearing that we need to develop new and more effective styles of leadership, or we are told that leaders need to be the ones making the changes. But how much support to bosses provide to allow leadership to be developed?

In a time of plenty there was enough time and money available to allow people the space to consider their leadership style and how they interact with colleagues. There was individual coaching and mentoring opportunities, and team building days and 360 appraisals. Unfortunately, now when we need to ask more of people we are struggling to find the opportunities needed.

This is why it is vital that we invest some time and thought even if that needs to be out of working hours. We should all be looking at how to develop ourselves further both in the role we currently have and for the future. Change is happening and it is not going to stop so finding ways to help staff become more comfortable with it is essential.

Everyone in a leadership role needs to be working together to bring the best out of the company, whether that is in streamlining or in developing and expanding. That is where internal communication is vital. The vision and principles of the organisation must be clearly understood and there must be an agreed definition for things. In that way there is a consistency throughout the organisation from top to bottom.

I was fortunate last week to have the opportunity to talk to Mary Keightley about effective communication and the development of leadership. Much of the focus has to be on understanding yourself and how you interact with others. But none of this will have an impact unless you can value the differences of other people. There are different motivations, approaches and priorities that people have and leaders need to understand and appreciate them all. But also to bring things together.

In all this change and uncertainty the communicator and the internal communication professionals have a central part to play. There is no time to stay still we all have to keep learning.

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Why I love a good crisis

I came to the conclusion today that I quite like a good crisis. I suppose that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me and knows that I have been working in police communication for around 16 years. Crises come in all shapes and sizes from terrorist emergencies through to reputational nightmares but when they happen the adrenalin definitely kicks in.

Today (Thursday 18 June) I had the pleasure of being asked to chair the afternoon session of the PR Week Crisis Communication conference. There was a huge amount of knowledge and experience in the room and some fascinating subjects that were discussed including dealing with the Ebola crisis, how to get ahead of any crisis, legal issues, how to work with the media and how to rebuild after a crisis.

I loved the phrase from Jonathan Hemus from Insignia who was referring to things that mean crisis communication goes wrong. He said ‘denial is the enemy of crisis communication’ which I think is something all senior leaders would do well to remember. Jonathan is, of course, right that you have to see there is a crisis in front of you before you can be effective with your communication and handling of it. An interesting concept for FIFA recently.

Dealing with a crisis is becoming ever more complex with everyone able to do live reporting and the growth of eye-witness reporting. An interesting thought for all communication professionals came from Simon Bucks, associate editor at Sky News, who added ‘the concept of deadlines is gone’. All the media want to get the breaking news first for their website and social media. I wonder whether communication teams are set up to be able to provide such a speedy response around the clock?

The importance of planning, preparation and exercising always comes through at such conferences and it did again. I will take away the concept provided by Markus Leutert, from Walgreens Boots Alliance, who calls is ‘crisis fitness’. The fact that you are ready and able to respond to a crisis well before it happens is essential. A crucial part of this response has to be the communication with employees. They are the people in the frontline and at the sharp end dealing with the day-to-day comments. It is vital that they are given support and information that they can make good use of. An interesting thought from Heather Wagoner, from London Underground, was to consider putting more junior staff into the media. I am not sure how many chief executives would be happy for that to happen but I can definitely see occasions when it would work.

Key threads during the day were the importance of honesty, transparency and integrity in the communication and alongside this was ensuring you say sorry if it is appropriate. People are at the heart of every crisis and the response has to be focused on people not profits or organisational reputations. Being sympathetic, listening and understanding the public viewpoint is never more important than during a crisis.

My three key learning points from the day were:

1. A crisis can be a huge opportunity and it can really sharpen and put a focus on your skills

2. Before a crisis, think the unthinkable and prepare for the unexpected

3. Dealing with crisis communication has to start today

And I might allow myself to have a fourth which is that crisis communication can be an adrenalin fuelled opportunity for communicators to prove their worth.

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Crime on the increase….it isn’t all bad

We seem to be in a position of confusion. We want to have crime figures reducing but we also want to know that people who have done things wrong are being dealt with. Today the NSPCC released figures about the number of child abuse cases and there was a huge amount of concern, shock, and discussion about the increase.

It is not a simple situation and we seem to have a split personality over things. There is a relentless pursuit of falling crime figures that seems to be hunted by the media. Any increase like the one highlighted today is weirdly seen as a bad thing. But how can it be a bad thing? Surely to have a more accurate picture of what is happening in communities is the best position to be in.

If we know we have a problem with child abuse, domestic abuse or cyber crime then we can start to do something about it. There is nothing to be gained by things happening out of public view, going on in the shadows because if that is taking place then how can it be tackled? If we think there is no crime taking place can that ignorance really be bliss? Will we see policing as successful when we have kidded ourselves that there is no crime taking place?

Let us all be realistic. Policing is successful when the picture of crime is fully understood by everyone and it can then really be addressed. Take for example cyber crime if people came forward to report what was happening then we can understand what is taking place. This means we can work with other agencies so they can recognise the problem and support finding solutions. We can work with the digital companies who can help find solutions in the technology. And we can make an accurate decision on where and how scarce resources are used.

Of course if we want to sit in blissful ignorance that is also possible. Simply don’t report crime, don’t tell people about problems in your community and don’t complain when criminals are running around unchecked. We know there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and we can make the figures say anything. Now is definitely the time for a huge amount of honesty.

Remember when you read the headlines and the stories about crime figures that when reports are increasing it isn’t a bad thing. It is merely giving us something to work on.

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Around the world in 80 seconds

The past few days have reminded me how small the world is and this brings both positive things and some challenges. On Tuesday morning, I was quickly made aware of the terrible events in Canada. A police officer had been killed while on duty. It is easy to wonder why that has anything to do with me here in Greater Manchester but it did. The officer who so tragically lost his life had been working in Greater Manchester Police for four years before he moved to Canada around eight years ago.

Suddenly a series of events many thousands of miles away had become something of huge significance for me and the team. My thoughts are with the family of Daniel Woodall, and also his friends and colleagues. The world has definitely become smaller in the past 48 hours.

I also started to write a list of the things I love about social media and what it has given me. (More of that in a future blog.) As I did that it was clear that it has brought me within easy reach of professional communicators and police officers across the world. I am lucky enough to have connections with people in America, Canada, Europe and Australia. Social media really has made the globe a much smaller place.

In the past few days I have started to do some research ready for a paper that I need to write. (Again, more of that in the future.) The subject is related to crisis communication and social media and in identifying some key research it has taken me across America and Europe. The information is as relevant on this continent as it is on others. When I was growing up and then doing my degree I could never have imagined how easy it would be to gather this information from across the world.

The world is shrinking and it is easier than ever to travel without leaving home. The key for us all is to make the best use of what we now have around us.

One final thought is to ask everyone to remember those working in emergency services around the world. They put themselves at risk for us on a daily basis. Something worth thinking about.

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Behind the headlines, remember social media isn’t all bad

There has been a lot of coverage in the last couple of days of the number of crimes that have a link to Twitter and Facebook. If you believe the coverage there has been a huge increase in crimes related to social media. But if I do my ‘more or less’ (the Radio 4 statistics breakdown programme) there seems to be more to the story than you would think on first reading.

The information came from a Freedom of Information request. However, buried within the article was the line that put the whole story into context. It stated that the only way police forces had been able to gather the data was the search the systems for mentions of Twitter and Facebook on the crime reports. So does that really mean that the crime has taken place on social media? Absolutely not.

All it means is that when the crime report was being taken there was a mention of Twitter or Facebook. This could be because the crime has taken place on social media, and for some cases that will be true. But for most it will be that it is an incidental element to the crime itself. Take for example the case of a neighbour dispute. It will be happening face-to-face on a regular basis but then statements could be made, or threats, through social media. That doesn’t make it a social media crime but just a location that is involved.

The media seem to love any opportunity to say how much of a problem social media is, and to blame it for many of the ills in society. For this story there is definitely more to it than meets the eye. Just because many crimes will happen around transport hubs and railway stations doesn’t mean they are bad places. Likewise Twitter and Facebook are not bad places to visit, it is just what people do with them that is the problem.

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