Instead, we're seeing stories emerge of crazy conspiracy-theories.
Muni Media Training
Doing media training for municipalities has been a part of my business for several years.
In Alberta alone, I’ve done media training for 28-different municipalities. That’s broken down to six cities, eleven-towns, ten counties and one municipal district. I have three more municipalities scheduled between now and the end of the year, which will bring the total to more than 30.
Most of these sessions have been done in-person, which has allowed me to see much of Alberta. It’s a nice part of the job.
One of the great parts of my job is seeing people progress and get much more confident when they speak to reporters. I’ve seen people come to my sessions totally freaked out at the prospect of speaking to the media, but then seeing then on TV a few weeks later and they look like a million bucks.
I only take a small amount of credit for it. Most of it comes from them understanding how to approach media interviews, working on it and delivering when they get their chance. I always feel like a proud father when I see some of my former students doing well when they’re called upon to speak on behalf of their municipality, or any organization for that matter.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve gone through the worst spring that I can remember for fires across Alberta. For the first half of May it seemed like a major fire was breaking out every day and another community was being threatened.
Like I said, the job firefighters have done has been amazing. Fires in recent years in Slake Lake and Fort McMurray showed us clearly how easy it can be for large chunks of major communities in Alberta to get wiped out by fires.
What has also caught my eye is some of the people I’ve done media training for speaking to the media about the fire situation in their communities. Once again, I felt a sense of pride to not only have helped them with media training, but seeing them on TV talking about the work they’ve done.
Then there are the Communications professionals who have hired me to do training. I’ve been thrilled by the work some have been doing.
In the County of Grande Prairie, Communications Manager Lesley Nielsen-Bjerke drew on her background as a journalist to interview several of the people responsible for fighting large fires around the community for the past few weeks and using social media to provide updates on their efforts. The County of Grande Prairie did a terrific job of updating residents, something I’ve been encouraging municipalities to do more often. With fewer reporters out there these days, munis have to get more innovative to get updates out when an emergency occurs, or for that matter, at any time of the year.
I was also thrilled to see Candace Denison from Rocky View County in the Grande Prairie region to help Lesley and others help update residents on the fires. I just worked with Candace and her team in Rocky View a few weeks ago and it was tremendous to see this form of co-operation. I’m sure many other municipal communicators across the province chipped in to help others around Alberta, so kudos to you too.
One person I can’t take credit for training (but wish I had) is Yellowhead County Mayor Wade Williams.
Williams, angered by misinformation about the fires being spread on social media came up with this beauty of a sound bite when he said “Take Facebook and throw that damn thing in the garbage.”
What a great quote. Talk about getting your message across.
Williams and his Chief Administrative Officer Luc Mercier were angered by inaccurate stories spreading through social media quicker than the fires they were fighting.
Some stories were being spread that firefighters were leaving their trucks behind intentionally and conspiracy-types were wondering out loud why the fires were so bad during the provincial election campaign, suggesting something sinister was behind the timing.
Of course, these same people forget, or don’t want to remember, that May 2019 was a terrible time for forest fires in Alberta and smoke made it so bad people needed to drive with their headlights on during the middle of the day in Edmonton. Then there was May 2016 when the Fort McMurray fire took place. Terrible fire situations in Alberta in May happened more often than not.
It’s difficult enough to fight fires, without having to read and hear some of the wild stories some people want to spread.
Whoever wins today’s election in Alberta should announce a way to honour and thank everyone who has fought fires for the last several weeks.
I’ve worked with some of those people and I want to say thank you for what you’ve done.
Image credit: Government of Alberta