In 1989, a remarkable interview took place on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Before 40 million viewers, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Jack Moore, sat in the hot seat as reporter Ed Bradley grilled him about the possible harmful effects of a chemical (Alar) used to treat apples.
At the time, Dr. Vincent Covello had a keen interest in the interview. The year before, Dr. Covello had published an EFA policy document titled “The Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication.”
The situation had everything: heroes (60 Minutes), villains (the EFA), and victims (the children subjected to a possibly cancer-causing additive). As the interview played out, Dr. Covello watched in near disbelief as his recommendations for risk communication went largely unheeded.
This is the case study that opens chapter seven of Dr. Covello’s most recent release, Communicating in Risk, Crisis, and High Stress Situations: Evidence-Based Strategies and Practice.
As readers will learn, the case study shines a bright light on public perceptions of risk and the ways these perceptions play out in the media.
Our previous post previewed the sixth chapter of Dr. Covello’s must-have resource for risk communicators. Below, we’ll look into the seventh chapter, “Foundational Principles: Perceptions, Biases, and Information Filters.”
What You Find Within
The following are the topics covered in Dr. Covello’s book. In the section that follows, we’ll look more in depth at the seventh chapter.
- The Critical Role of Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communication
- Core Concepts
- An Overview of Risk Communication
- Development of Risk Communication Theory and Practice
- Stakeholder Engagement and Empowerment
- Communicating in a Crisis
- Foundational Principles: Perceptions, Biases, and Information Filters
- Foundational Principles: Trust, Culture, and Worldviews
- Best Practices for Message Development in High Concern Situations
- Communicating Numbers, Statistics, and Technical Information about a Risk or Threat
- Evaluating Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communications
- Communicating with Mainstream News Media
- Social Media and the Changing Landscape for Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communication
A Peek Inside Chapter 7: “Foundational Principles: Perceptions, Biases, and Information Filters”
This chapter focuses on the following:
- The ways that perceptions are as relevant to communication effectiveness as facts
- The psychological, social, and neurological factors that affect message perceptions under stress
- The concept of “acceptable risk”
- The ways practitioners account for filters, biases, and other factors when crafting messages
As with each chapter, Dr. Covello concludes with an extensive list of resources ideal for further exploration.
In the next entry in this series, we’ll preview the eighth chapter, which covers trust, culture, and worldviews.
Pathway Prompt: Have you ever had a client ignore your advice on communicating risk? How did that play out?
Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide
More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.
This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.
The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing email@example.com.
Dr. Vincent Covello
Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.
Covello, Vincent T. Communicating in Risk, Crisis, and High Stress Situations: Evidence-Based Strategies and Practice. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2022.