Navigating Crisis News in the Moment: News Anchor Dave Madsen Speaks to Nagurney's Logistics Class
March 26, 2014
Now in its second year, Anna Nagurney's innovative course, Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare, introduces cutting-edge crisis management and planning skills to Isenberg and other UMass Amherst students. "My goal is to give our students the tools and mindset to act decisively and adaptably in human crises like storms and earthquakes, food shortages, financial contagions, and pandemics," explains Nagurney, who is John F. Smith Memorial Professor of Operations Management.
Two high-profile visitors to the course in March were UMass Amherst family and sports medicine physician Pierre Rouzier and Springfield Channel 40 ABC/Fox6 news anchor Dave Madsen. This news story focuses on Dr. Rouzier's relief work in Haiti and at the 2013 Boston Marathon. A follow-up story, which will appear next week, will explore Madsen's media work with local and national crises.
"During a crisis, everything you've planned for in the media goes out the window," long-time ABC40/Fox6 Springfield news anchor and managing editor Dave Madsen told students in his February 27 visit to Anna Nagurney's course, Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare. The course introduces Isenberg and other UMass Amherst students to cutting-edge crisis management and planning skills.* "You must deploy critical skills in the moment," added Madsen, a UMass Amherst alumnus who has been Channel 40's news anchor since 1992. Before that, he was anchor with WWLP Channel 22 from 1979 until 1991.
Tornado. There's a rule of thumb in broadcasting, he remarked, that insists on three confirmatory sources for a story. When you're airing information about a disaster-in-progress like the tornado that ripped through downtown Springfield in June of 2011, however, you need to make rapid judgment calls to alert the public and save lives. At the same time, "our job is to disseminate information with a sense of calm," he emphasized.
For the tornado, which Madsen noted left parts of Westfield, West Springfield, and Springfield looking like a "war zone," ABC40 deployed four news crews on the ground, broadcasting for 5 ½ hours live without scripts. "It was an exercise in controlled chaos," he observed. "But everyone knew what they had to do. In fact, people came up to our truck thanking us for saving their lives."
Technology Rules. "The event," Madsen continued, "was my first encounter with social media during a crisis." Ten years earlier, during 9/11, which had transformed Bradley International Airport into a "ghost town," the internet had played a significant role in broadcasting, but social media as we currently know it was still in the future. Because social media's present-day impact is instantaneous, "you are all journalists for us," Madsen told the class. "Everything we do on TV today is also on the Web. Wherever you are, we come to you; that's where TV broadcasting is going."
During his talk, Madsen recounted his broadcasting experience with earlier crises, including shootings and other storms. And he noted how changing technologies, such as the evolution of videotape and satellite technologies in the 1970s and 1980s, altered the craft of coverage. "Today, tech drives everything," he emphasized. But ironically, the adrenaline rush and spontaneity of an unfolding disaster call for many of the live-coverage skills that characterized television in its infancy.