Was There Video of It?
One of the biggest changes to affect the news business in the last 25 years has nothing to do with journalists being laid off, thinner newspapers, or disappearing radio newscasts. It's video and it's power and impact affect the news we watch, read and listen to every day.
That's right, video. Video shot on phones and video from security cameras. It's around us all the time.
I often tell my media training classes, if it wasn't for a short piece of video shot from a cellphone, the last few years of Rob Ford's life would have been much different.
Changing the Rules of What Makes News
When I ran a radio newsroom in Edmonton and did the morning news each day, I took pride in being able to recognize how big an emerging news story would be. There were several rules of thumb that I used, without really thinking much about it. They included the impact or shock value of a story, how interesting it was, how many people would be affected and how much it would affect those people. I wrote a blog post on this around a year ago.
I left the news business 25 years ago this November and I don’t think the way I looked at the value of a news story then was much different than today’s editors, with one important difference – video.
Whether we’re talking about television, newspaper or radio there’s no question the impact of video plays an important role today in how big a story becomes. Obviously this is much more important for TV than the other two forms of traditional media, but due to the impact of video in social media, video will make any story more important and affect the play it gets in newspapers and radio news as well.
United's PR Disaster
Let’s look at the effect of video on some notably different news stories over the last few years, starting with what happened at United Airlines last month. Imagine for a moment, if there hadn’t been any video of what happened on the flight where Dr. David Dao was dragged off, bloodied and screaming.
Even if other passengers would have gone on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram right away to tell the story of what had just happened, there’s no way their descriptions would have carried the same impact as the video did. While “you won’t believe what just happened” comments can be quite strong, there’s no way in the world they can be as impactful as seeing the actual video of what transpired. It was the video that turned it into such a big story and resulted in a steep, but temporary drop in United’s share value.
Don’t forget, we got that video from several different angles, because so many people were using their phones to record what was happening. It’s almost impossible to know how many times those videos have been seen because they were on so many media platforms and television news programs.
I also found it interesting that at the height of the story, we learned that Dr. Dao had a criminal past, but that hardly made a difference in the public’s reaction. That’s because the video was so powerful. Regardless of what he had done in the past, he had been pulled from his seat, injured, dragged off the plane and it was all on video, from different angles.
Another way of looking at the impact of this video is to ask the question of what news coverage would have been like if the same incident happened 25 years ago, before phones that could shoot video were around and in the infancy of the internet. I talked about that in the video below.
How Video Ended the Career of Ray Rice
In March of 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after an incident occurred a few weeks earlier with his then fiancé in an elevator in a casino in New Jersey.
Video footage emerged of Rice and Janay Palmer arguing as they entered the elevator and then Rice dragging his now wife out of the elevator when the doors opened. The NFL suspended Rice from the first two games of the season.
Months later, TMZ obtained video footage of what happened inside the elevator and it clearly showed Rice punching Palmer and knocking her out and then seeming to have little regard for what had happened as he tried to drag her out of the elevator.
The NFL quickly changed its suspension and Rice was gone for the rest of the season. He hasn’t played a game in the league since and likely never will.
The clear outcome from the incident was that Rice wasn’t suspended for the season because he assaulted his fiancé. That was pretty obvious to anyone who put two and two together after seeing the first video. Rice got the much heavier suspension because there was a video of him punching his fiancé and knocking her out. It wasn’t necessarily what he did that got him suspended, it was the fact there now was video on it for all to see.
If that video hadn’t been made public, chances are Rice would have resumed his career as a running back after two games and may still be playing today. Talk about the impact of video.
Secret Video Can Be Even More Powerful
In the spring of 2013, a group of Calgary and area home builders and land developers gathered secretly in the theatre of a Calgary home builder’s building to talk about the municipal election that was to be held that fall.
The founder of one of Calgary’s biggest builders Shane Homes, Cal Wenzel had the stage and led those on hand through the way he saw the election unfolding and recommended how fellow members of the development industry should funnel their campaign contributions to try to “control City Council.” Somebody in the audience secretly recorded an 18-minute video of Wenzel’s presentation.
What Wenzel and others in the room were there to do was decide how they may be able to influence the results of the election. While it may surprise people that industry leaders plot to find ways to influence election outcomes, the reality is this happens in business all the time. Companies support candidates they hope will help them if they get elected. It’s happened for generations.
In the case of builders and developers, they typically have supported all candidates with a chance of winning, so regardless of who does win, they have their bases covered. The problem is, it’s not very effective in determining who wins.
In 1995, I served as Executive Director of a group know as the Greater Edmonton Growth Campaign. Ironically, our group was funded by the same industries who were in the theatre listening to Wenzel speak – home builders and land developers. We publically said it was our intention to inform voters of the candidates who would do the best job helping Edmonton grow and prosper. Although we were transparent about what we were set up to do, our goals were the same as Wenzel’s and others in that room in Calgary in 2013.
There were two important differences though. The discussions the industry leaders in Calgary were having were held behind closed doors AND there was video. The combination of a private meeting, with well to do businesspeople trying to control government, doesn’t provide very good optics. Secret video of it happening made it a lot worse.
I felt sorry for Wenzel, because he's done so much in the community in Calgary, but there was no getting around the power of the video.
One Important Question to Ask
The world of crisis communications hasn’t changed a lot over the years. It basically comes down to getting a read on what’s being reported in the media and it’s impact, deciding when and what kind of statement to make and what action to take and then managing the issue from there.
Those smart enough to understand the impact of video now need to take it into account too because it can play a larger role in the impact of the story than any other single factor.
As a matter of fact, the first question they should now ask is “Was there video of it”?
What would have happened if the United Airlines incident occurred 25 years ago?