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“Innovations in Crisis Communication” Post-Release


“Innovations in Crisis Communication” Panel Commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic and Exhibit Showcases Titanic-related Artifacts from TCNJ’s Sarnoff Collection

The Department of Communication Studies together with the Sarnoff Collection, both of The College of New Jersey, sponsored a panel in the college library from 4:00 to 5:30 PM, Thursday, April 12, 2012, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (which occurred on April 15, 1912). The panel was titled: “Innovations in Crisis Communication: Lessons from Titanic, Multiple Disasters, and Shootings at Virginia Tech”, and it featured panelists renowned for their expertise in crisis communication.

David Sarnoff as a telegraph operation at the Wanamaker station in New York City, c. 1912

Telegraph key used by Sarnoff to transmit messages during the sinking of the Titanic, Sarnoff Collection, TCNJ

Telegram regarding the Titanic disaster signed by Sarnoff, April 16, 1912

Sarnoff as a wireless operator in Nantucket, 1908
Moderator: Dr. Paul D’Angelo is Associate Professor, Communication Studies Department, The College of New Jersey, senior author: Doing News Framing Analysis: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives(Routledge, 2011).

Panelists: Dr. Alex Magoun, outreach historian for IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional society, is former executive director of the David Sarnoff Library, and the world’s leading authority on David Sarnoff and RCA. His two books are: Television: The Life Story of a Technology (Johns Hopkins, 2007), and David Sarnoff Research Center: RCA Labs to Sarnoff Corporation(Arcadia, 2003). Dr. Magoun spoke on “’Saved by Wireless’, or Not: Titanic and the Illusion of Maritime Safety” Titanic‘s role in the development of maritime distress signaling and on the sources of American popular awareness of the value of radio on ships. The tragedy of April 1912 accelerated international cooperative efforts to ensure the safety of lives at sea, and stunned a public conditioned to expect a wireless safety net in any maritime disaster.

Dr. Lisl Zach is Assistant Professor, The iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology; and member, Task Force on Disaster and Emergency Preparedness, Drexel University. Recently, Dr. Zach has become involved with specific questions related to the use of social media technologies to provide health information to vulnerable populations and to build capacity-based risk communication systems. Dr. Zach spoke on “Communication in the Wake of Disasters: Making Sense of Chaos” Whether the precipitating event is a shipwreck, a shooting, or a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, individuals seek to make sense of their environment by communicating with those around them. Social media tools have changed the way that communication in times of crisis can occur and have made it possible for people far removed from the site of the disaster to learn what is happening in almost real time. The presentation drew from examples of the use of social media tools during recent disasters (such as the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia) and examined where crisis communication has come over the past 100 years.

Prof. Kim Pearson, Chair of the African American Studies Department and Associate Professor of journalism/professional writing at TCNJ, discussed issues in covering trauma and tragedies, relying in particular on two contributions she made surrounding the wanton killing of students at Virginia Institute of Technology. Prof. Kim Pearson spoke on “Covering Tragedy: Lessons from the Virginia Tech Killings” Prof. Pearson wrote a guide for journalist decision-making in covering traumas and tragedies (Covering Tragedy: Emerging Lessons From the Virginia Tech Killings. Blogher: April 17, 2007 In addition, she elaborated a code of ethics regarding limits to the amount of publicity journalists should offer an accused killer regarding provocative photos and manifestos (Cho Manifesto Highlights Challenges for Online News. Online Journalism Review. May 3, 2007.

The panel was organized in conjunction with an exhibit, Radio to the Rescue: David Sarnoff and the Titanic Disaster, that showcased materials from the Sarnoff Collection at TCNJ and commemorated the involvement of its namesake, David Sarnoff, in rescue efforts following the sinking of Titanic. Sarnoff, who later became chairman of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), was a wireless station manager in 1912. When news of the disaster arrived, he contacted nearby ships and compiled lists of surviving passengers. This exhibit considered Sarnoff’s role in the crisis as well as the long-term consequences of the sinking of the Titanic for the wireless industry.


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The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628


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