Consuming crisis media: emerging trends and unfailing principles

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By Tom Adams

The good thing about the end of a year, indeed the end of a decade, is that many outlets are keen to summarise their most popular output. One such outlet, World Maritime News (WMN), did so this year with their 10 most popular interviews and 10 most read stories. Their lists indicate both how we consume our media, and how we might see maritime casualty media coverage progress in 2020.

Intensifying climate pressure

2019, and indeed the latter part of the last decade, should be remembered for the change in language, tone, temperance and reach of the climate debate. What was ‘climate change’ became ‘climate crisis’. Small, localised bands of Extinction Rebellion protesters became a mass movement of thousands across Europe participating in ‘climate strikes.’ This shift was reflected in WMN’s most read interviews.

Popular interviews

50% of the top ten interviews focused on the industry’s efforts to move in a greener, more sustainable direction, covering either technological innovation, or expert commentary on maritime sustainability. The introduction of IMO 2020 has compounded the emissions debate, with fuel changes and scrubber use a topic of fierce discussion. Adding to this, MSC has become the first shipping company to break into the EU’s top 10 polluters, previously filled exclusively by coal power stations and one airline, Ryanair.

Tellingly, coverage of MSC’s inclusion on this list was framed as the maritime sector having escaped the legislation and scrutiny other industries have endured to reduce emissions. In 2020, we should expect this scrutiny on our sector’s environmental footprint to expand and become a major source of communications issues.

Compelling crisis stories

Of WMN’s most read stories, 60% were traditional crisis media stories: four were large-scale vessel fires, one a loss of containers and one ship capsized. In short, they were all highly visible.

When training with our clients we often talk about anticipating media interest. Visibility of an incident is a key indicator. “Can people see it?” should be the first question that you ask yourself in a potential crisis scenario, and if the answer is “yes” then you should expect media interest. Without exception, all six of these most read stories contained striking imagery, particularly the incident in Indonesia (Feb 2019) as 30 ships ablaze were photographed by drones and mobile phones. It is a safe assumption that 2020 will continue to see dramatic images drive traffic to crisis stories.

A new future?

A final observation: none of WMN’s top interviews from the year managed to crack into the top 10 most widely read stories. Interviews are a great way of diving into a topic or an individual. People read interviews from influencers, decision makers, big heavyweights or people of interest. It’s primarily a knowledge-acquisition exercise. However, those seeking knowledge sadly number fewer than those seeking interest or excitement – particularly when interest or excitement is grabbed by stunning visuals and sensational headlines. It might be a new year, but some things don’t change.

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