Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Bright Light, but Who's Watching?

Over the last week I've heard many anchors quoting the 2002 Times-Picayune series (written by Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid) warning of the dangers facing New Orleans should a large hurricane hit the city. I've also heard about a Mr. Bill ad warning of the dangers of an eroding coastline. These are great examples of the "bright light" journalists talk about. Here they were, doing great work, shining the light on the true dangers lurking in the darkness.

Why didn't anyone listen?

I can't help but think about all the "woolf crying" that I hear on local TV. I'm bombarded with promos telling me how there can be hidden dangers in my back yard, and how cell phone batteries may burst into flames and burn my ear. I've heard stories about supposed radiation poisoning I could get from making calls with certain phones and why floride in the water is just a bad thing. I've heard about the dangers New York City could face in case of a major earthquake, and how a similar earthquake could liquify the landfill in Boston's Back Bay.

Are all these credible? Maybe. But how do you absorb and process all these facts? Can a news consumer truly be expected to worry about all those things at once without going nuts?

During the leadup to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US military intercepted plenty of messages that, if read correctly, could have predicted the attack. That's great in hindsight, when we know the result. But at that point in history there was so much noise that codebreakers had no way of knowing what was real and what was noise. How can they determine a true message from one that was there just to throw them off?

I feel the same way when watching TV and reading the paper. What is relevant and what should I toss aside? With the constant flow of information now in front of me, I no longer know what I need to know and what is just nice to know.

From PR perspective, breaking through the clutter is becoming even more difficult and our impact lessened. Even if I have a device that can save lives, it's a struggle to get people to hear my message.

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