Governments, corporations, and communities plan for sudden crises: the White House drafts strong responsive rhetoric for the next terrorist attack; Toyota runs reassuring national TV spots within hours of a product recall; and 32 Massachusetts towns successfully publicize water distribution sites following a water main rupture.
However, like the housing collapse or the recent Gulf oil spill, some crises are complex, difficult to warn of, and don’t cleanly fit traditional media frames. They are slow moving, and the media still struggles to rhetorically or technologically cover these simmering, rather than boiling, dramas.
With government regulators weak, corporations still focused on the bottom line, and communities adapting to structural change, this Communications Forum asks: What new media tools and strategies can be used to help everyone better prepare for the unique communications challenges of slow-moving crises?
Andrea Pitzer is editor of Nieman Storyboard, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University that looks at how storytelling works in every medium. Storyboard’s mission is to feature the best examples of visual, audio and multimedia narrative reporting.
Abrahm Lustgarten is an investigative reporter for ProPublica—his recent work has focused on oil and gas industry practices. He is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Rosalind Williams is a historian who uses imaginative literature as a source of evidence and insight into the history of technology. She has taught at MIT since 1982 and currently serves as the Dibner Professor for the History of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. She has also served as head of the STS Program and Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs at the Institute, as well as president of the Society for the History of Technology. She has written three books as well as essays and articles about the emergence of a predominantly human-built world and its implications for human life. Her forthcoming book extends this theme to examine consciousness of the condition of “human empire” as expressed in the writings of Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 19th century.
Moderated by Tom Levenson, who is Head and of the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies as well as Director of its graduate program. Professor Levenson is the winner of Walter P. Kistler Science Documentary Film Award, Peabody Award (shared), New York Chapter Emmy, and the AAAS/Westinghouse award. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, Discover, The Sciences, and he is winner of the 2005 National Academies Communications Award for Origins.