Friday, October 8, 2010

Lessons from a CNN journalist's Twitter experiment

Anchor Jim Clancy, CNN International.

CNN's Jim Clancy recently posted this question to a worldwide audience via Twitter:
clancycnn  Clancy File #QOD : Would you cancel a trip to Europe or change your plans due to the new terror warnings? Tweet away! Tune in The Brief!
Although a number of viewers responded to Clancy's question, the US Department of Fear would not call  Clancy's experiment a success.  We analyzed the responses only to discover that not a single respondent to Clancy's question choose to share anxiety.   All Clancy got back for his efforts, by way of response, were foolish expressions of bravado.

How to account for the disappointing response? It needs to be noted that Clancy's followers on Twitter are not the Fox News audience. They are CNN viewers.    Studies show that compared to Fox News viewers, people who watch CNN tend not to be well informed about terror threats.   On Fox News, even the most speculative threats get hours of airtime.  Nevertheless, CNN is making progress in this regard (we were impressed by its special report on the risk of "cyber attack").    A more pertinent factor is that Clancy's show is broadcast on CNN International, which, compared to its stateside sister network, puts excessive emphasis on reporting actual news stories.  Too much reporting of foreign news means too little airtime for interviews with experts about terror threats.

However, most of the responsibility for the disappointing response lies with the journalist himself.  Jim Clancy is not only a CNN anchor but a  foreign correspondent with decades of experience in war zones from Beirut to Afghanistan.  DoF maintains that foreign correspondents like Clancy have special responsibility --  a moral obligation in this dangerous world -- to show people that it's normal to be scared.    Viewers needed to hear from Jim Clancy himself about his own feelings.  The public yearns to hear from someone with Clancy's background that it's natural to feel scared when a Terror Alert happens.  But Clancy neglected to express his own personal concerns about travel to Europe.  Had Clancy given even a hint of his own personal trepidation about getting on a plane, riding the London underground, or strolling the Champs-Élysées, you can be sure that viewer anxiety would have spread like a shock wave.  The audience would then have thought:  if a guy like Clancy is worried, maybe I should be too.  

Fear wants to travel.  Clancy blocked its transfer by being overly cerebral.  Of course, thinking is not what journalism is supposed to be about.  Great journalism is about helping audiences to feel.   Fox News has this figured out, but CNN still doesn't get it.

Incidentally, the new media model for the transmission of anxiety by way of Twitter, as discussed in the previous post, is British recording artist Lily Rose Allen.   Jim Clancy and other journalists trying to reach out to the public on Twitter would be well advised to study her example.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Friends share fear

The Storm (1893) by Edvard Munch: The women of the town have gathered outside a house to share their fears.
In a previous post, the US Department of Fear urged readers to turn to social media in the aftermath of a Terror Alert.   We've been getting a lot of positive email about our proposal. 

But a question is also coming up.  Some readers are asking:  What if you aren't comfortable using social media?  

Good question. Just because Terror Alerts are transmitted through the electronic media, this doesn't mean you have to use technology to express yourself.  Why not strike up a conversation about the new threat with the people in your life?   We all have friends or acquaintances who don't understand the risks posed by terrorism (think of any people you know who don't watch Fox News).   

Perhaps you have a friend like Jacey Mint from Winchester, Virginia.   After Jacey's good friend Kate irresponsibly urged her "not to worry" about the recent Travel Advisory for Europe, Jacey says it was only by hearing "people around me keep talking about it" that she began taking the latest threat seriously:  
jaceymint Even though @communikate told me not to worry about the terrorist threat level, people around me keep talking about it & I am freaking out.
Friends share fear. If you don't feel the urge to talk about it for your own peace of mind, do it for the sake of scaring someone else.  Do it for a Jacey Mint in your life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coping with Terror Alerts the Lily Rose Allen way

The State Department recently issued a Travel Alert for Americans contemplating a trip to Europe. It's based on intelligence that the terrorists are planning to attack tourist venues.

State Department under secretary Pat Kennedy told reporters by way of a conference call today: "We are not asking Americans... we are not, not, not saying that they should defer travel to Europe at this time, absolutely not."

If you shouldn't cancel your trip, what should you do?   In a word, communicate!  DoF suggests you share your thoughts and feelings -- your concerns, worries, anxieties -- with other people by way of social media.  That's what people on the frontier of new media are doing.  For example, a tweet by British recording artist Lily Rose Allen recently caught our attention: 
  • lilyroseallen Oh god, foreign office have put people travelling to France on high terror alert!!! I'm in Paris already.
    The above tweet was retweeted by no fewer than 22 Lily Rose Allen fans.  Lily Rose then reflected on some recent experiences that had made her afraid, and she shared these fears with her fans:
    • lilyroseallen Scared being here but scared to get on the Eurostar home.
    • lilyroseallen Come to think of it. The day before yesterday there was this weird guy balancing a small bottle of something on his knee.
    • lilyroseallen He was sat next to me at a taxi rank, I thought he was being strange so I snuck a picture.
    • lilyroseallen I hope I'm just being a mad paranoid pregnant lady and that he wasn't a terrorist about to unleash deathly virus.

    The last tweet about the possibility she had just encountered "a terrorist about to unleash a deathly virus" was re-tweeted 52 times.

    Lily Rose is a world famous creative artist.  Don't be discouraged if your mind doesn't work the way hers does; if your imagination doesn't run away with you so quickly.   It's enough to simply share what you feel. 

    Lily Rose's tweets prompted dozens of her fans to share their own concerns about terrorism:
    • nicocleo seriously, we are all concerned at the news of high terror alert all over Europe :-(
    • P_L4NE yeah unscrew the lid of that end of the world!! made in Affstaniganh by osama bin  
    •  jessiesyard cross your fingers bit when it's high terror alert tis usually means they foiled a plot it's when (cont) 
    • missbufton I totally know how you feel. Rucksacks, public transport and me are the worst combo ever. 

    One fan tweet stands out -- it's one every celebrity should take to heart: 
    • emz194 ♥ @lilyroseallen for tweeting normal tweets rather than advertising shit like every other celeb....boring!!!
    What is more normal than feeling anxious about a Terror Alert?  As we like to say, real friends share fear.  Even if you're not a celebrity, supposing you want more followers on Twitter, you would be well advised to emulate Lily Rose Allen.    

    The Department of Fear has been won over by Lily Rose Allen.  To us, she's a veritable "Fear Superstar."  Whether on Twitter or Facebook, we know that there are many others out there sharing fear.  Although you may not be as well known as Lily Rose, we admire you just as much.  A list of our favorite tweets is available here 

    What kind of ally is Germany?

    German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere refuses to warn Germans about the new risks.
    In an article entitled "Germany downplays terror threats announced in US, British travel alerts"  Deutche Welle, the German state broadcaster,  reports on the reckless behavior of certain German officials:
    The US media have extensively covered the US State Departments' travel alert for Europe, even naming specific targets in Berlin and Paris. But Germany says the threat of a terror attack is no higher than usual.

    US television broadcaster Fox News, citing intelligence sources, reported that the Brandenburg Gate, the notable television tower at Alexanderplatz, and the central train station were specific targets of potential terror attacks in Berlin.

    ...despite specific targets being mentioned, the interior ministry in Berlin sees no reason to increase Germany's terror threat level and has said it will continue its current state of vigilance.

    In a statement to reporters on Monday afternoon, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that although there continues to be a general "high abstract threat" of terrorism in Germany and other European countries, he warned against overreacting to the travel advisory and media reports.

    "There are currently no indications of any immediate threat of attacks planned against Germany," said de Maiziere. "There is no reason whatsoever to be alarmist at the moment."
    This story by the German broadcaster neglected to mention that the present terror threat emanates from Hamburg:
    A group of eleven or so jihadists from the German city of Hamburg are alleged to be at the center of the recent al Qaeda plot to launch co-ordinated terrorist attacks against European cities, according to a new report by CNN.
    The German government has no business downplaying the severity of the threat.  That's why, during an emergency cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday tonight, Fear Sec. Malcolm P. Stag III is likely to urge President Obama to recall the American Ambassador to Germany.  

    Of course, that's unlikely to help the situation.   This is not a case of a few bad apples in the Reichstag.  The truth of the matter is that today Germany is a mere shadow of its former self.