InfluenceChronicles.com -- At one of our crisis communications workshops, a general counsel said his company would use a strategy of ignoring reporters to delay or kill a negative story. It's best to ignore news media until all the facts are known, or until there's some “good news” to tell.
But this works only if your company is Boss of Everyone. If it isn't, then you can’t stop media from reporting a legitimate news story any more than you can push water uphill with a fork. Not only do your pants get wet, but you look like you're clueless about gravity and other forces of nature.
What drives media coverage of your company's crisis or controversy is being first with the headline, and then being first with new information as the situation unfolds. An editor or producer has no obligation to include -- much less wait for -- your company's spin of the story.
In the analog days, we'd say that a news story didn’t have to be complete because “there’s always another newspaper tomorrow.” We'd wait for it on the porch with our Tab and Space Food Sticks.
Today, however, updated and expanded versions of a story are delivered as fast as it takes to upload. Confirmations and clarifications, new discoveries, allegations, comment strings, Facebook posts, Tweets and real-time video spread across the ether with mind-blowing speed to form an information ecosystem that didn’t exist only hours before.
Not responding to a negative news story means you're adding another layer of risk to your company's reputation. You leave it to reporters to discover details you don’t have or don’t want to share. Information and speculation get rushed into the narrative, regardless of accuracy.
In most cases you prolong the bad publicity you were trying to avoid.
One more thing. The more obstinate your company in not responding to bad news, the more it becomes part of the story -- even the more damaging PR crisis.
Does that mean you must have answers to every question? Of course not. But there’s a huge difference between hiding under the desk and making a sincere effort to explain what you can and can't discuss. Engaging news media with sincerity during an emerging crisis -- including why you can't comment -- is a credibility factor. You may even get some breathing room to put new information in your context before it goes live.
The rule is the same whether you’re dealing with good or bad news: Say only what you know to be true.
But say it. Your company will be better for it.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- How'd you like to slog off to work every morning knowing that your customers don’t trust you? That sums up the life of local journalists, say two recent reports. Why it matters? Because it impacts how your local newspaper or TV Action News Team covers your company’s next crisis.
A Gallup Poll found that barely three out of every ten Americans trust what they see in the news. And on CareerCast’s 2016 list of the 200 worst jobs, newspaper reporter ranked dead last, with broadcasters taking bragging rights for being only the nation’s third-worst career. The annual list takes into account working environment, income, growth potential and stress factors.
Too many local reporters are overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and isolated in newsrooms that have neither time nor money to let them truly engage and understand the arenas they cover – especially the business world.
This leads to a fatalistic, cynical view of the world that steers even talented reporters down the path of least resistance, characterized by shallow, clichéd conflict stories that provide inaccurate or no context, and that give equal weight to any “contrasting” source, no matter its lack of credibility. For companies responding to complex crisis situations, this tired and formulaic approach to journalism can result in undeserved damage to their hard-earned reputation.
While it certainly doesn’t exist in every market, it’s important to anticipate this predisposition to fast-food local journalism, especially if your company’s crisis communications strategy is to speak with reporters. The best way to prepare -- aside from knowing your facts, messaging and how to handle interviews -- is to deliver as much concrete, articulate information as possible. Dish it up on the proverbial silver platter in easily digestible portions.
A seasoned and solid journalist will appreciate the directness, which will help ensure an accurate story. And for the over-worked and disconnected reporter, the closer you approach “add water and stir,” the better the chances the resulting story will accurately represent your company's position. Quite often it’ll be included verbatim.
What’s happened to local journalism – and especially local business reporting – is tragic. But the reality is that today’s lean media environment, with its ratings pressures and “pay by the click” compensation, forces many local reporters into being glorified stenographer-provocateurs looking for edgy or emotional angles.
Be aware and ready.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- When Facebook deleted the iconic “Napalm girl” photograph because it violated policy on showing nude children, the Norwegian newspaper editor who posted it wagged a sanctimonious finger at CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
"The media have a responsibility to consider publication [of stories] in every single case," wrote Espen Egil Hansen, editor at Norway’s largest newspaper, in an open letter to Mr. Zuckerberg. "This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California."
Facebook allowed the photo after members around the world protested -- underscoring the power of social media communities to police themselves. The outcome was as it should be.
But in reporting the reversal, most news media -- some treating the controversy like it was another Scopes trial -- failed to clarify that the commercial Norwegian newspaper was using Facebook first and foremost as a free marketing and publicity tool. “You are offering us a great channel for distributing our content,” Hansen wrote. “Even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper… you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility.”
It's doubtful that Mr. Hansen read through Facebook's investor prospectus to find where it says the company is beholden to his “exercising of editorial responsibility.” Because it's not there.
Here's the thing about the internet. Over time, the relationship between social and news media will either achieve mutually-beneficial equilibrium or reshape itself completely -- just like what happened with personal home pages and other content aggregation platforms. Mr. Zuckerberg sees this as making Facebook the "perfect personalized newspaper for everyone in the world."
However things play out, we should be cautious about holding Facebook and other corporate-owned social media services accountable for not behaving like the news journalism companies they aren’t.
Delivering the milk doesn’t make you a cow.
InfluenceChronicles.Com -- National Public Radio has joined the growing number of online media outlets that no longer show public comments at the bottom of news stories.
In case you’re new to this WWW thing: Many comment sections have been commandeered by small groups of mostly anonymous "trolls" who shout down and ridicule anyone with opposing opinions, often with incredibly violent imagery and hate speech. And don't get us started about punctuation.
Many news sites held on – and still do -- to comment sections in part because they create space to sell ads, without the nuisance of paying journalists for content. These days, however, social media platforms offer more civil, cost-efficient ways to facilitate public dialogue around sponsors’ interests. The result is that media sites are dropping comment sections as a well-intentioned but failed, high-maintenance vestige of a simpler Internet time.
But not all. One ticked-off supporter of comment sections is Breitbart News, the hyper-populist, anti-lefty media site whose chairman is now running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Hostile partisan vitriol is what outlets like Breitbart and the anti-righty Daily Kos are selling, and they have plenty of followers (including trolls). But these aren’t products that attract mainstream advertisers and promotions. It’s commerce, not comments, that keep most online media in business.
Time Magazine underscores the problem with its cover story, “How Trolls are ruining the Internet.” Some 80% of the 93-year-old magazine's own writers said they don't cover certain topics because they fear the online response. Sometimes the attackers will track down and harass a writer's spouse, parents, even children.
Despite America’s chaotically contradictory Internet culture, it would seem that the bulk of news comment sections are heading toward extinction as new ways to engage the virtual public square become more advanced. What the Internet mob does as a result is a whole other consideration.