Dissecting Journalism and Public Relations During a Time of Crisis with Dr. Andrea Miller

In the last few years and throughout the country, history has been made in some not so pleasant ways. When unexpected tragic events strike communities, crisis communication is a necessity and must be done correctly, by both the journalist and public relations specialist, in order to be effective. Professor and Associate Dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU, Dr. Andrea Miller, along with Dr. Jinx C. Broussard co-authored a book focused on crisis communication from the journalism and public relations perspectives. 

The working title, A Partnership in Crisis: How Public Relations and Journalists Can Work Together in Times of Crisis, features eight crisis case studies from events around the country. The authors conducted more than 60 in-depth interviews with journalists and public relations professionals and reviewed hundreds of newspaper articles and press releases.

“We wanted this book to give back to our industries – to have a practical influence on those working in the trenches of crisis communication going forward,” Dr. Miller said. “The coverage and information we receive during a crisis are so important. This book looks at how journalists and public relations specialists worked and didn’t work together during crises, and also gives advice on how situations could have been handled differently.”

The eight cases featured in the book cover different types of crises such as public health, food safety, race relations, natural disasters, and school violence. One case analyzes the introduction of the Ebola virus into the United States in 2014.

“Ebola was a public health crisis,” Dr. Miller said. “Journalists had a difficult time communicating risk. Some of the coverage was hyperbolic and people did not want to leave their homes.  The risk of getting Ebola was very small and people overestimated their risk.”

A more recent case, and one that is still affecting people today, is the historic 2016 Louisiana flooding.

“In the flooding, we were able to leverage social media tools such as Facebook Live,” Dr. Miller said. “We were able to communicate with people being affected in real time. It is so important to be able to serve people immediately with information that helps them make life-saving decisions.”

However, journalists and public relations professionals were also living the crisis with the community.  Their homes and families were also affected as they continued to work to do their jobs of relaying important information to the community. 

“They had to learn how to cope as they were working,” Dr. Miller said as she discussed journalist vulnerability during times of crisis. “If you’re a journalist, you feel a sense of duty to cover the next story, but news and PR supervisors also understood that their employees needed personal help during that time as well.”

Researching these national cases revealed that in some situations, journalists and public relations professionals misunderstood each other’s structures and goals.

“One way to improve the working relationship is to clearly understand what the other side does – their norms, structure, pressures, duties and work routines,” Dr. Miller said when asked about moving forward together as journalist and public relations professionals. “Everyone is just doing their jobs, which in crisis is accurate and timely information transmission; and, of great importance to everyone.”

Currently, the manuscript is under consideration for publication. Her second book published in 2014, Water & Oil, addresses all aspects of media experiences during the Gulf Coast crises of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Disaster.  Dr. Miller has been a part of LSU’s faculty since 2003.