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27 April 2009

Using Media Attention to Promote the Need for More Thoughtful Data Analysis

Since the very beginning of, intense media focus on aviation safety events, typically plane crashes, have presented opportunities to bring the work of to the attention of the media and the general public. The increasing variety of advanced search and social media applications have made it easier than ever to quickly identify opportunities to promote a greater understanding of aviation safety.

The recent FAA policy proposals concerning public access to their bird and wildlife strike database, and the reversal of those proposals, resulted in something unusual when it comes to the the media and aviation safety--intense media attention that didn't involve a plane crash. used one of the many free search tools from Google to find newspapers and other news media that were writing about that database, allowing to take specific steps to engage the public and the media in a further dialogue about issues related to analyzing that database.

When the FAA proposed to severely restrict the public's access to the FAA's bird and wildlife strike database in March 2009, it ignited controversy as well as hundreds of news stories related to the proposed policy change. When the DOT and the FAA reversed course the following month, it led to hundreds of other articles, many of them focusing on the strike record of specific airports and airlines.

This spike in interest represented an opportunity to increase's audience by using the media coverage to direct people to bird and wildlife strike information on's web sites and blogs.

The key was that many of these articles allowed readers to leave comments. left comments on many of these articles, making sure that the comments invited the reader to visit related online resources that provided additional information about bird and wildlife strike related issues.

Finding the articles was particularly easy, with the most important tool being Google Alerts, a free service that allows you tell Google to search for recently published content that contain specific keywords of interest.

The full plan to take advantage of the sudden public attention had three parts:

1. Use Google Alerts to find out what news stories were coming out online (in this case, the search terms [+faa +"bird strike"] were used).

2. Find the articles with the largest potential audience and either post comments to the article (always mentioning at least one of's bird strike related resources).

3. If an article from a medium to large media organization had contact information for the writer of the story, I'd make a point to contact that person by phone or email and offer to provide information or answer questions.

By using Google Alerts research to find news articles, I was able to easily find dozens of opportunities to post comments to articles and use those posts to direct readers to some of my resources. In addition, I also found relevant media contacts that I could help or that could help me later.

Each of's comments were a variation of the following message:

Releasing the data was the right thing to do on the part of the FAA. The right thing to do on the part of the public is to use the data as a way to understand a problem and not as the final answer.

Keep in mind that the FAA bird strike database is voluntary, so you can't just look at the raw numbers. Aggressive reporting is only one reason why there may be many reports in the database from a particular airport or airline.

Aviation organizations like the Foundation offer many insights into how one should approach aviation safety data. Many of their bird strike examples are at and

It's not too late to do this kind of thing for your organization. Whether it is for bird strikes or for something else related to aviation, if you have a blog or web site that needs a boost of attention and traffic, and there is a major media frenzy that is relevant to your site or blog, try this three step marketing method yourself. Even if you don't place comments, it is an excellent way to identify reporters whom you may want to approach later.

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