How Did Your Station Respond to France’s 9/11?

| November 16, 2015

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By Howard B. Price
ABC Television Network
Director, Business Continuity

 

pricehowardbwriterNEW YORK — So what was on YOUR station’s air when news broke of the horrific, coordinated attacks on six Paris locations, where large crowds had gathered – for dinner, for soccer, for a rock concert?  When news broke that at least 120 innocent people had been cut down by terrorism, with perhaps hundreds more injured?

“Well, France is a long way from (name of your town),” you might say. “And TV was all over it….” And of course, there’s the web, and maybe your market or an adjacent market has an all-news or news/talk station that was on top of the story.  So maybe you saw no role for your station, especially if it’s not in the news or news/talk format.

And so maybe you stayed on automation.  Stayed with music, or brokered programming or an infomercial you were running.

Because YOUR listeners don’t turn to you for news.  Maybe they don’t care about terror in Paris, right? Not on a Friday night in the States?

You couldn’t be more wrong.

There were local stories springing from the events in Paris all over the US.  Security around sports stadiums was being ramped up (one of the Paris attacks took place at a soccer game where the French president had been in attendance).  More police were being dispatched to major transportation centers, and tourist areas known to draw big crowds.

I live near a nuclear plant – and I sure wish my local station was updating me on security there.  I live near a major bridge, the loss of which would severely impact our local economy…and disrupt transportation between New York City and points to the north, east and west.  I live near major commuter rail lines, the loss of which would cripple the ability of people to commute to their jobs.  I live in a community with lots of shopping malls. And parks. And movie theatres. And bars. Which in Paris and other places, have been the scenes of recent terror attacks.

I’d like to know what my local officials are doing to protect us against similar attacks here.  I’d like to hear what my neighbors are thinking and saying about it.

See what I just did there?  This how you LOCALIZE a far-away story that absolutely resonates with an American audience still recovering from the horrors of 9/11, and personalizes it for EVERY community.

But during and immediately after the Paris attacks, my local station was playing music.  Their website wasn’t updated.  Because my local station has no news department.  My local station has no full-time web manager.

Practically speaking, my local radio station would have no way to meaningfully respond to a breaking story – around the block or around the world — if its life depended on it.  And oh, by the way…it does.

Do we need EVERY station to go wall-to-wall with a story like this? Every circumstance is different…but EVERY station DOES need to remind its audience that it is IN TOUCH with what is going on in the world around them, all the time. EVERY station needs to signal its audience that it is on top of emergent events minute-to-minute, and is equipped to provide critical information on those events at a moment’s notice.  Further, it needs to be able to localize and explain the impact of big stories breaking around the globe — AND around the corner.  At minimum, that means making sure all staff know how to reach key local resources, any time, anywhere. And they must have sufficient training to step into a newsgathering role when necessary.

If you really, really, REALLY can’t afford to staff a news department, you MUST affiliate with a reputable network news service with experienced worldwide resources.  I’m biased, of course, in recommending ABC Radio…but whatever your choice, network news affiliation protects you, enhances your credibility and reliability as a go-to source for information in a crisis, and gives you time and resources to ramp up your own local reporting.

At the end of the day, EVERY station needs to remind its listeners why, in the age of the Internet, they still listen to radio for anything.  On Friday night, as Paris was under siege, MY local station was all but irrelevant.

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Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is director, business continuity for the ABC Television Network.  The opinions expressed in his articles are his alone, and are not necessarily those of his employer.  He can be emailed at Howard.B.Price@abc.com or phoned at 212-456-1073.

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Category: Advice