Bad News about Business–chicken or the egg?

Frankly, I’m a little stunned by this headline from leading media research firm Delahaye: Corporate Misdeeds Lead to Negative News Environment.

It seems to make the assumption that the news business is just there to report the facts and if there is an increase in negative reporting about bad things happening in business, it is therefore logical that there is more bad behavior in business. There is no doubt that there are a lot of ethical failings in business. As there are in education, in religion, in the arts, in sports, in politics etc etc etc. Personally I have not seen any evidence of more moral failings in business than in any other human activity. But that is not the way it is portrayed in the media. Particularly as it relates to big business. We are raising a generation of young people who believe that most evil that happens in the world is because of big business–this in my mind is due to the bias in our education system and in our mainstream media. Now that is strongly reflected in the blog world as well. I provided some intriguing evidence for this bias in my book Now Is Too Late2–where our mass entertainment usually selects business people for the bad guys because, as one film executive said, if we choose business people to be the bad guys it is what the audience expects and “would we be so wrong?”

Information and entertainment have become inextricably entwined–infotainment. And telling of the personal sacrifices, the rapid increase in Corporate Social Responsibility, the good solid ethical work done by millions of hard working people in big and small business alike–these things do not sell newspapers, do not create ‘breaking news’ stories on local tv, and don’t attract audiences.

Am I biased? You bet your bippy. I’m biased against infotainment and the natural result of emphasizing the evil, violence and ugliness of the world. Including that which can be far too easily found in big business–just like every other human endeavor.

Fighting Rumors–P&G, Starbucks, McDonalds bedeviled

Increasingly there are signs that companies with much brand value at stake are understanding the new rules of public information. The first one being speed in the age of instant news and online attacks.

Here’s the most relevant segment from this story from Brandweek about P&G, Starbucks, McDonalds and others who have been fighting rumors of being associated somehow with the devil:

Despite P&G’s success, some companies hesitate to act out of the fear that the additional attention will spread the rumor even farther. Instead they wait for a story to achieve a certain level of traction before responding. How do they determine what that level is? “We could tell the rumor was having an impact by the number of calls we were receiving about it,” said Loftus. “Today, that’s e-mails.”

But analysts warn the increased speed of communication has changed that. There is no way to tell when a piece of false information will suddenly become the Web’s story du jour. “The rules have changed. Until about 2000, the rule was you wait until it hits critical mass,” said Mike Lawrence, evp at Cone Communications, Boston. “Now you have to respond quickly, before it hits critical mass.” 

As has been discussed here many times, one of the most critical questions for communicators and executives is when to respond. Respond too soon and you risk elevating a story that may die a quick and quiet death. Wait too long and you risk finding yourself in a deep hole that could have been avoided. Getting your listening posts in place and having the wisdom and judgment to know when to pull the trigger is critical. But, has this story shows, increasingly there is little time for deliberation. And the unpredictability of what gets traction on the web increases the thorniness of this problem.

(Greetings from sunny LA–here for a few days for business and to greet my beautiful new granddaughter born early Saturday morning)