Crisis communication research has now been around for a few decades, with a steady increase of intensity when it comes to publication and formation of theories. Handbooks and encyclopaedias have been published, and more are under way. The research has reached the stage where the description of its development forms a necessary foundation for the formation of new approaches and explanations, and where the opening up of the field towards other disciplines points out novel paths for a better understanding of what crises are, their significance in present-day society, and how organizations should react to them.
Two recent books are prime examples of this change: Both give comprehensive overviews of how crisis communication as a field has evolved, and present a frame for assessing the different approaches in order to explain new concepts for the study of what happens during crises. And both can be seen as representatives of what one could call an interpretive view on crisis communication, pointing to an increased interest in the role of the audience for such communication.
Canadian Duncan Koerber starts out by discussing the problem of defining a crisis, a key feature of many of the founding texts of the field. In most cases, defining crisis is closely related to establishing a typology, intended to be exhaustive and complete. To Koerber, one of the main problems of such an endeavour is the fact that it presumes that each crisis has a significant meaning to everybody. This is not the case; instead, the meaning of a crisis must be seen in relation to the community in question. Each community forms an entity with shared views and frames of interpretation, expressed through a common discourse, and the meaning of a crisis is constructed through the community’s interpretation and shared sense-making. “In crisis communication, one can see audiences as ‘interpretive communities’ to use Fish’s term. Interpretive communities comprise people with the same ‘interpretive strategies’, and these strategies cause people to make similar meanings of texts. In essence, interpretive communities battle over the truth, Fish says.” (Koerber, 2017: 21).
Danish based researchers Winni Johansen and Finn Frandsen are arguing along the same lines in their book, Organizational Crisis Communication: “In this book, we take a social constructivist perspective on organizational crises. Crises are not just ‘out there’. They are social constructions. Crises are something that are interpreted as crises. Sometimes there is more than one interpretation, sometimes the interpretations are negotiated.” (p. 35).
Both books are, in other words, representatives of “the interpretive turn” in crisis communication, i.e. of the increased interest in sense-making as the pivotal point. Inspiration comes from text linguistics, discourse studies, literary studies, and, one could argue, hermeneutics. The result is a focus on context, interaction, complexity, and contingency, and both books thus fit into what has been termed a “postmodern approach” to crisis communication.
Both Frandsen/Johansen and Koerber give an overview of previous theories of crisis communication, with Frandsen/Johansen being the most systematic, argued and thorough account of the field. A common thread in general books on crisis communication is the need to give an outline of this relatively new field of study, thereby constituting its status, its main questions, and the different theoretical backgrounds. Due to this, these two books have a lot in common, from the triple structure of crisis communication (before, during, after) to the summaries of the major theories within the field. Frandsen/Johansen, however, have a broader scope, as they not only try to describe the field of crisis communication but also include the relations between crisis communication and crisis management.
But even if the two books can be seen as belonging to the same paradigm, there are of course substantial differences, and the authors bring their own contributions to the development of the field. Duncan Koerber starts out by describing a crisis as something done or said by an organization, which a group of stakeholders see as a violation against the discourse of the community. A crisis is a “discursive break”, with
This points to crises being inherent to society; one could even claim that they are necessary for every community in order to (re) negotiate its boundaries by calling to arms whenever they are transgressed. Crises are not alien things, they are an intrinsic part of social life, but they are not necessarily identical for different communities. As a crisis depends on the interpretation of the organization’s discourse by a community, another community might develop another interpretation of the same discourse. In short, the belief that a crisis is identical for different communities of stakeholders is wrong; defining what a specific crisis is must always be done in relation to a specific community. The multiplicity of stakeholder communities with differing boundaries leads to the multiplicity of crisis interpretations as well. A crisis is not “singular”, although the triggering event may be the same.
Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen use the metaphor “rhetorical arena” to sum up their theory about what happens when a crisis develops. A problem in crisis communication research has been the focus on the organization experiencing a crisis, resulting in a single communicator model. But what happens when a crisis surfaces, is the opening up of an arena where multiple voices are heard. Groups who feel that they have a legitimate claim on the organization start communicating with the organization, with each other, or with the public at large. Some of these voices you can expect, such as victims, customers, politicians, etc., but one never knows exactly which voices will be heard and how they will interact. The success of the organization’s crisis communication depends on how they react to the different voices, in words and action, and how the groups addressed by this communication interpret the effort made by the organization.
Both Koerber and Frandsen/Johansen thus paint a complex picture of what a crisis is and how crisis communication evolves, but it is also a picture which is much more in accordance with our experience of today’s crises. Together, these two books present a frame for studying crisis communication which does not try and simplify the complexity of a crisis, with a multitude of stakeholders with differing interpretations of both the world and the organization in question and with different interests in the development of the crisis, which unfolds simultaneously in a multitude of channels. Crises have become complex events that necessitate a theoretical framework able to integrate the complexity.
The two books are both primers in crisis communication, but at the same time they offer important contributions to the development of the field. They both present what must be considered the core theories of crisis communication, and they both integrate these theories into their own overarching frames. As a teacher, I find Frandsen and Johansen’s book more suitable, as its structure makes it easier to jump back and forth and apply different aspects to one’s own cases. They also explore the epistemological background for different theories at a more detailed level, which facilitates a discussion of how different theories of crisis communication relate to theories of communication in general. Koerber’s text, on the other hand, is of a more narrative kind, which seems to demand that the reader reads the book in one go.
Danish television drama has recently achieved international popularity among critics, broadcasters and audiences as well as media scholars.
The first chapter introduces the recent history of Danish television drama productions, focusing on the two main broadcasters, DR (a public service broadcaster) and TV2 (a commercial broadcaster with some public service obligations). The authors describe Dogme 95, which began a New Danish Wave in filmmaking in the 1990s in which acknowledged directors such as Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg brought something new to European art house cinema. This discussion supports the overall aim of the book: to illuminate the strong connection between Danish filmmaking in the 1990s and more recent Danish television drama productions.
The second chapter introduces scaffolding as a conceptual approach and framework for the book, especially its empirical and analytical chapters. The authors introduce the National Film School in Copenhagen and the crucial role it played in the New Danish Wave as well as the training of Danish filmmakers in the 1990s. The overall premise of the book is explained as follows: “Given the school’s significant role, it is appropriate to look closer at some of the didactic concepts that, in one way or another, found their way into production at DR as well as TV2” (p. 67). Following the authors, scaffolding is crucial for understanding filmmakers’ training as well as their aesthetic and production processes.
The next five chapters present the analytical and empirical material. Each chapter focuses on a distinct case study of a series, spanning from
Chapter three presents a case study of the DR series
In chapter four, the Danish-Swedish co-production
Chapter five focuses on the political drama
Chapter six analyses the family drama
Finally, chapter seven studies one of DR’s previous crime series,
In the concluding chapter, the authors present some general reflections on the international success of Danish television drama from Dogme 95 to the more recent Nordic noir genre. The authors wrap up by proclaiming that “a major trump card, besides the numerous factors, is indeed the different levels and methods of scaffolding as a production method” (p. 214).
Each of the selected drama series and its creative personnel, including their history within the screen industry, is described in detail. The authors base their ideas and arguments on empirical studies of interviews with selected scriptwriters and directors, a cameraman, a producer and the Head of Fiction at the two major Danish broadcasters, TV2 and DR. The critical reception to the study led to interesting comments about the analysis, even though it is based on a very small number of British (and a few Danish and German) critics who are internationally well known for their enthusiasm about Danish drama series.
However, beside these in-depth descriptions and analyses of the selected drama series, the aim to use scaffolding to contribute to the field and as a framework for the analyses is not made clear. In general, it is not obvious how scaffolding can be applied to textual and dramaturgic analysis, and the analytical distinction between the three levels of scaffolding (macro, meso and micro) is not applied to the case studies. In some of the chapters, the scaffolding conditions are not reflected at all. As such, the case studies do not convince the reader that scaffolding is a method used in Danish television drama productions. The concept is broadly understood as general production conditions rather than as a creative tool. In particular, it is not made clear how public service can be considered a scaffolding method in drama productions (p. 72) or how scaffolding differs from, for example, Redvall’s (2014) ideas on the screen idea system.
Furthermore, it is not made clear why these selected drama series are chosen, how they demonstrate the scaffolding approach in Danish television drama productions in different ways and what the main reason is for recent Danish television drama’s popularity (the “trump card”). The selection of drama series seems to reflect the recent general international interest in Danish drama series, such as
Because the authors are based in Germany and Denmark, it would be great to learn more about the German reception of Danish television drama, which may be linked to Germany’s historical interest in Scandinavian crime series and crime fiction. Moreover, since Danish television drama has recently achieved international academic interest, it would have been appropriate to include a short state of the art section in the beginning to point out how this book contributes to the field. The strength of the book is the detailed description of each of the selected drama series and the combination of the production study approach and analysis of the narratives and characters of series that have become iconic Danish drama series in an international context.
This summer (2018), a number of large wildfires and forest fires plagued Sweden. The fires are considered the most serious in Sweden in modern history. Firefighters from several municipal counties were involved, as were civilian volunteers, national armed forces and international fire brigades. On social network sites such as Facebook, people followed the news, expressed their concerns about the fires, debated the causes, asked for and provided updates on the current status of all fires and organized some extra voluntary help – accommodations for those evacuated, food and water for firefighters and volunteers, etc. When a car accident caused a forest fire just outside Uddevalla in the late summer, people in the area knew what to do: “People showed up with boxes of pizza … It was 30 degrees hot, and as soon as it became clear this was gonna go on for days, the FRG was called in to supply water and food to the fire-fighters. But people turned up with pizzas. They trespassed into the restricted zone, looking for firefighters in the burning woods, leaving boxes of pizza at random places. Because that’s what they’d read on Facebook that people had done during the previous fires. They genuinely believed that this is what one’s supposed to do” (member of Uddevalla Volunteer Resource Group (FRG), personal communication, August 2018).
The “unexpected pizza response” is an expression of group mobilization via social media; however, this response identified the need incorrectly. For various actors concerned with crisis and risk communication, group mobilization is one of the aspects of social media that makes it such a powerful tool. But social media platforms are also tools with special mechanisms and outcomes (uses) that one needs to understand. A big help in this work is the new book
The aim of the book is to “enable a more efficient and appropriate use of social media among key communicators” (p. 1) in crises and risk situations by analysing and learning from the communication on various social network sites during previous crises and by identifying key takeaways, resulting in practical advice for crisis and risk communication in different contexts, such as environmental crises, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks. One focus is on situation awareness (SA), defined as “all the knowledge that is accessible…and that can be integrated into a coherent picture for assessing and coping with the situation” (p. 4).
Part 1 of the book presents empirical studies on communication on social network sites during and after previous crises. The first five chapters in this part present a close look at communication related to the terrorist attacks in Oslo in 2011 and the implications the experiences from that day and the following weeks have had for different actors’ current uses of social network sites. I must admit that some of this reading leaves me with a stomach ache. The empirical material takes me right back to the day of the attack and the anger and pain I felt when I – via Twitter and breaking news reports on websites, radio and television – realized the magnitude of the attacks. In Chapter 1, Steen Steensen analyses what was posted – and by whom – in the Norwegian Twitter-sphere during and in the weeks after the attacks, focusing on the significance of hashtags and how these shaped the conversation during and after the attacks. In Chapter 2, Elsebeth Frey presents interviews with eight of the survivors of the Utøya attack as well as an analysis of their Facebook walls to explore how they tell and re-tell the trauma and how this process functioned as part of their recovery. Chapter 3, authored by Rune Ottesen and Steen Steensen, is an analysis of how official actors, i.e. authorities, used Twitter the day of the attack. In Chapter 4, authored by Harald Hornmoen and Per Helge Måseide, the focus is on the crisis and emergency communicators (police and health sector), reflecting on their use – or, in many cases, their non-use – of social network sites during the attacks. In Chapter 5, Maria Theresa Konow-Lund analyses news organizations’ use of digital and social media.
Empirical studies of two other crises follow these chapters focusing on the Norwegian terrorist attacks. In Chapter 6, Colin Macinnes examine how traditional news media outlets use social network sites to distribute content during a crisis – in this case, how three UK media used Twitter during the West African Ebola crisis in 2014–2015. Chapter 7, by Susanne Sackl-Sharif, Eva Goldgruber, Julian Ausserhofer, Robert Gutounig and Gudrun Reimerth, focuses on the communication on social network sites during the Central European floods in 2013.
Not all crises are like the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, but there are several important takeaways from these empirical studies: The striking absence of authorities’ using social network sites to communicate and distribute information during the intense phases of a crisis (there are some exceptions) thus giving space for speculation and misinformation, the importance of establishing routines for coordinated communication, how unexpected actors (civilians or journalists) can take on the roles of “information hubs” by collecting and re-distributing pieces of information to a growing number of followers and how groups of people use network platforms for internal communication thus making it difficult for other users to find vital information.
Part 2 of the book is more closely related to the practical work the RESCUE project has done in developing tools for crisis communication and monitoring of social network sites. Chapter 8, by Klas Backholm, Joachim Högväg, Jørn Knutsen, Jenny Lindholm and Even Westvang, describes the importance of usability tests when developing tools that need to be functional and perform flawlessly in high-stress situations. Chapter 9, by Jenny Lindholm, Klas Backholm and Joachim Högväg, provides a surprisingly fascinating (I am no developer myself) insight into the use of technical tools for eye-tracking and analysing facial expressions to improve usability in such tools.
Part 3, finally, consists of empirically based hands-on advice for crisis and risk communication in specific contexts: Eva Goldgruber, Susanne Sackl-Sharif, Julian Ausserhofer and Robert Gutounig speak to environmental disasters (Chapter 10); Harald Hornmoen and Colin MacInnes to disease outbreaks (Chapter 11) and Steen Steensen, Elsebeth Frey, Harald Hornmoen, Rune Ottesen and Maria Theresa Konow Lund to terrorist attacks.
There are several important lessons to learn from this collection on crisis communication in social media, especially from the concluding three chapters: be prepared, establish routines and communication strategies, establish a presence and build an audience on the most important platforms in advance, coordinate important information, interact with users during a crisis, etc. However, the empirical examples presented in this book are several years old. In 2011, Facebook and Twitter were the most important platforms; today, I would like to add at least Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat to the shortlist. And, social network sites and platforms are constantly changing. As new features are added and others are disabled, new uses emerge continuously. For example, in 2014, Facebook added a special “safety check” feature to use during a crisis, enabling users in affected areas to mark themselves as “safe” to friends and followers. Contextual responses among the users “the unexpected pizza response” also change constantly. Furthermore, today much of the communication on Facebook has moved to more or less closed topical or geographically specific groups and organizational pages.
The understanding of how social network sites function and are used is also somewhat simplistic. Communicating on Facebook is nothing like communicating on Twitter in terms of reach and dissemination, how messages can be constructed or which individuals use each platform, how and for which purposes. And, I find no references to “dark social” and the communication in chat apps, directed messages, closed Facebook groups, etc. I would also have appreciated a section on how information disseminates on different social media platforms and, based on this information, advice on how different actors can identify and target their key audiences in these different contexts. A more thorough discussion of the spread of not only misinformation but also disinformation during crises such as terrorist attacks and of the importance of identifying and fighting rumours and misleading content with verified information would have been beneficial as well (cf. Dalsbro et al., 2017).
So, perhaps the most important takeaway among all the book presents is this one, formulated in Chapter 10: “learning to read, write and participate on the web, especially on social media, is an essential precondition for reaching out to and connecting with different actors and online communities” (p. 247), with an additional note of “remember to keep up-to-date!”
This is an open-access book, available via the publisher’s website as a downloadable pdf and as an ebook (ePub).
The chapters have been written by a mix of media and journalism scholars, journalists and graduate students – a welcome effort at bringing together different voices and various perspectives on the same overall issue. While most authors are Norwegian and affiliated with the research group “Individual Exposure in Journalism” (Index) at Oslo and Akerhus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA), colleagues from neighbouring Nordic countries and from Scotland have also contributed. As a result, the chapters cover cases and media content from a number of different contexts, including France, Italy, Scotland and South Africa, although with special emphasis on the Nordic region.
Many chapters engage with newspapers or use newspaper text, visuals or the interplay of text and visuals as empirical data, analysed by means of various methods – especially qualitative methods – including critical discourse analyses, semiotics and multi-modal analysis. Several chapters also mention technological changes in media and the digital aspects of contemporary journalism as an important driver of the subjective “turn” and the increasing exposure of individuals in journalism, although few engage with this aspect in depth. The focus on the visual dimension in numerous chapters is an important contribution: For example, Hugh O’Donnell analyses the front pages of the pro-Scottish independence newspaper
This links to another notable aspect of the book: the use of terminology. The various case studies apply and engage with numerous significant concepts – examples include individual exposure, individualism, personalisation, emotionality, emotionalisation, subjectivism, and subjectivity – which can all be seen as part of the same trend: a reconfiguration of professional values in journalism. All these concepts can inform us about important changes in twenty-first-century journalism, and they are often used interchangeably across the chapters. This, on the one hand, emphasises their interconnectedness or blurred boundaries. On the other hand, they are also distinct concepts with particular connotations, histories and traditions. Steen Steensen’s chapter, titled “Subjectivity as Journalistic Ideal”, exemplifies this; it provides a valuable discussion about the interplay as well as distinctiveness of “individualism” and “subjectivity”, tracing the historical and philosophical roots of both concepts. Similarly, Birgitte Kjos Fonn’s closing chapter, “Individual focus and exposure: some historical tensions”, nicely ties together some of the frictions associated with the concepts applied in many of the previous chapters, by linking the current trends to some of the historical predecessors, such as narrative journalism, tabloid journalism and service journalism. In this sense, Fonn’s chapter points to subjectivity and individual exposure being “old wine in new bottles” in some respects. One could have wished for further conceptual discussion and terminological unpacking across the chapters to flesh out, precisely, the distinctiveness
The themes and cases addressed in the chapters signal that special attention has been given to “classical” types of journalism, such as news journalism, political journalism and conflict reporting, although specialised types of journalism are also addressed, for example, sports journalism, science journalism and health journalism. One reason for this demarcation is, of course, as also noted by the editors, that ‘an edited collection cannot cover all aspects of the phenomenon’ (p. 15). Another reason may be that the individual and subjective “turn” is most visible within such “harder” types of journalism, since objectivity, facticity, empiricism and issues of political and broad societal significance have been key norms in Western journalism during most of the twentieth century as part of the professionalisation of the field (see, for example, Hanitzsch, 2007). At the same time, some parts of journalism have long applied analytical and more subjective or interpretive approaches and genres, for instance, in the coverage of and debates about arts, culture, lifestyle, everyday life and human interest (e.g. Riegert et al., 2018). Further, New Journalism and literary journalism are significant examples of types of journalism with a long trajectory of personal, subjective approaches (e.g. Pauly, 2014) applied to challenge the professional norms and epistemology of twentieth-century journalism, as mentioned by Steen Steensen in chapter two and by Birgitte Kjos Fonn in chapter 15. These types of journalism are not a main focus in this edited book, perhaps
Thus, this book, which is available open access, forms a valuable contribution to the study of individual exposure and subjectivity in journalism, as it provides a rich compilation of case studies engaging with and exemplifying different types of individualism and subjectivity within especially contemporary and established forms of journalism. Moreover, it implicitly points to important future research paths in the field, for example, in terms of the comparative aspects, cross-media aspects and the different domains of journalism. Overall, it adds to the parts of contemporary international journalism scholarship that argue in favour of abandoning normative dichotomies, such as objectivity/subjectivity, emotion/rationality, collective/individual and hard news/soft news (e.g. Peters, 2011; Wahl-Jorgensen, 2013; Roosvall & Widholm, 2018), given that their boundaries are often vague in empirical practice – and have been for long.
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