Monday, September 05, 2005

Digital Divide, Hurricanes and Disaster PR

Right now, we are witnessing one of the most mind bending times, something that might leave an imprint in the national history on par with 9-11. We are witnessing the after-effects of a devastating natural disaster, and that the Hobbesian state of nature sometimes does occur when government does fail its citizens.

One of the most interesting things that seems to have been glossed over is that this is the best example of the digital divide. As Richard Edelman has pointed out, this is a clear example of blogs and Wikis and the new media failing. Why? Because the people abandoned in New Orleans are the ones on the other side of the digital divide: the poor, the unrepresented, the forgotten. Those people that we pretend we don't see when we pass them on the street, ignoring their pleas until it's too late and we cannot ignore them anymore. Now is a time were we cannot ignore them anymore.

Now, the Blog A-list are swooping in to play the saviour, in a somewhat patrionizing way. They are putting up Red Cross banners and bookmarks, writing about what is not working and what is working, writing about the great evil federal government (or how great it's doing), and offering solutions.

It reminds me of the line from "A Few Good Men": I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.

Less talk, more action. While we can sit in front of our computers, and pontificate on what can be done, there are people that are out there doing good deeds with their hands and hearts - truly getting their hands dirty. There are people out there donating what can be donated, there are people opening their homes for the displaced.

Which leads me to another point. Right now, we seeing a lot of press releases or blog posts about companies donating money and time. In times of disasters, actions speak louder than words. While these companies should be commended for donating, what is the value of putting out a press release? Have a message document ready, if the press does ask what you are doing. In the rare instances, like if you are a company that tends to be attacked for everything (Walmart), yes, you do need to put out a press release announcing what you are doing for the people in the area. Otherwise, reading about your donation on your blog or a press releases makes me wonder what the PR strategy besides "me-too" might really be.

And, while New Orleans is getting the bulk of the press, let us not forget the other victims in other states. Let us not forget how this disaster first impacted states from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, and now will impact many more due to the relocation of half a million people. Who, really, is looking after them? While we will might forget this storm in two or three weeks, like we seem to do all others, there are people that will live with scars forever.

When all is said and done from this great storm - and the storm of activity online - the folks on the "other side of the tracks" will likely only gain one thing from A-listers: they'll inherit their wind.
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