Fact Check–an idea whose time has come

Let me put it right out there–I think a “Fact Check” section should be on just about every major organization’s news website. And a prominent feature of almost any crisis or incident specific website.


1) The media often get it wrong and their corrections (on the rare occasions when they are willing to do them) or often insipid and hidden.

2) Rumor management is job one for official communicators.

(Explanation–when news reports are increasingly generated on social media, the “official news sources–you” simply can’t be fast enough in most cases to provide the initial reports. That leaves you the job of knowing what is being said and making certain it is correct–rumor management)

3) The social media to mainstream media interconnectedness means that rumors, even wild ones, can be spread and grow with incredible speed.

(By the time you get around to the process of contacting the reporter, moving it up the chain, them reviewing and making a decision about retraction, the story has long gone and something more immediately has replaced it.)

4) Because you are the broadcaster.

(Today, more and more news is going directly from the source to the public and stakeholders–mainstream media is losing its position as the sole or primary “mediator” of information.)

If you want to see how this works, I suggest you look look at Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (full disclosure–they are a client and I was involved in setting up their Fact Check process). A local ABC affiliate ran a story that was incorrect. It involves the very sensitive topic of water rates. The public affairs staff at DWP led by Joe Ramallo quickly noted the incorrect report on the Fact Check section of their news website. I’m certain they also contacted the station. A correction was soon in coming and DWP profusely thanked the station for the correction.

My questions:

1) Would KABC been as fast and as forthcoming as they were if DWP was not very publicly communicating their clear error of fact?

2) Next time, will the reporters and editors treat stories from secondary sources with a little more caution–in fact, any stories about DWP with a little more caution?

Public affairs is all about credibility. Fact Check only works if the correction is absolutely, 100% correct and without animus or attitude. It’s about what is true and who can be trusted. And that is why it is so effective, because believe it or not, even mainstream media know that credibility is important.

Does public relations need a new definition?

Apparently the Public Relations Society of America thinks so. In keeping with the spirit of the times they are crowd-sourcing the development of a new definition. You can participate here.

I think this is in reality an effort on the part of the industry to establish some clarity around the business. You know what an architect does, an engineer and a lawyer. For the most part you know what an advertising agency does. But, what does a public relations person do? Unfortunately, I think too many in the media, public and the profession continue to think that it is about pitching stories to the media. And, that misperception may very well be why the PRSA is taking this step. A serious adjustment of how people, and particularly clients, think about the profession is valuable if my assumption is correct.

The return of the news cycle? Tablet computer use shows return to familiar patterns

It’s one of the markers for the massive change in news. There used to be a news cycle. Communicators would time the release of major announcements to either maximize or avoid the normal patterns established by major outlets–such as a 4:30 to 5 pm deadline for hitting the 6 pm news. The Internet, changes in broadcast technology plus the emergence of 24 hour cable news all resulted in a 24 hour news cycle. News was broadcast when it happened, not when it could be packaged for an audience that would show up like clockwork.

Just when we got used to that, we see evidence of a new news cycle emerging. Tablet computers are proving to be a major device for news consumers, and as much recent research has shown, it is changing how people consume news and the depth with which they consume it.

But, as this report from Nieman Lab about comScore research shows, tablet use closely resembles how we used to read newspapers. The graph shows news consuming patterns similar to when we used to get a morning or evening newspaper or listen to drive time radio. Stronger first thing in the morning, then in the evening around 6 pm.





The study shows the difference in news viewing on computers, tablets and smartphones. Computers are used more during working hours, tablets used more in morning and evening with a pretty big dip during the working hours, and phones used off and on throughout the day.

As tablets grow in use and become an even more important tool in news consumption, that dip becomes more significant. Sunday is also a day when tablet use is particularly heavy. Which all goes to say that newspapers were right to put emphasis on the Sunday edition and news networks were right to put their big news shows at 6 and 11 pm. The newest devices are bringing us back to the future.


How newspapers use Twitter–and why you should to

We now know that news organizations of all types rely on Twitter as a source for news. They use it to listen because it is the quickest way to find out what is happening from the people closest to what is happening. So, you should to.

But news outlets also use Twitter to tell their followers (and through them, their networks) what they are covering. This report from Nieman Lab (Harvard’s journalism lab) shows how news orgs are using Twitter as a glorified RSS feed.

When they cover a story, they tweet about it. Why? Because it is fastest way to let the world know that something that may be of interest to the followers is on their websites, newspages or TV screens.

They do, so should you. Best practice today in crisis communication is to use your website (for major incidents, an incident specific website preferably on a management platform meant for that) to post the latest information about the event and your response. Then tweet. 140 characters to say something on your site is worth checking out. It’s the best way to let the news organization know you have something for them. Consider it a media advisory in that capacity. But it also lets the followers and their followers and their followers know that you are talking to them directly, that you are the best source for info about the event, that you are the most reliable and credible (and fastest) source of information about an event that they care about.

Penn State and Herman Cain–why hope is hopeless

I follow the news like others, looking for crises to comment on. I haven’t blogged about Penn State’s problems, just because, well, everyone else was and the lessons seem so obvious. But, perhaps an even more obvious lesson is that these important lessons bear repeating because some just don’t seem to be learning very easily.

The obvious lesson is, if you know something is going to bite you in the rear end, don’t keep your rear pointing in the same direction. Turn around and face the problem head on.

The absolutely amazing thing about Penn State is that this was such an obvious “smoldering” crisis. And it was smoldering in large part because they did nothing about it. Herman Cain was a bit of fresh air in the primary race in part because it was just kind of intriguing to consider the possibility of two smart African-Americans facing off for the presidency. But, did not Mr. Cain and his campaign have any idea that these issues would come up in the race? I have no idea the legitimacy but the mere fact that allegations were raised and settlements paid in the past meant that it was 99.99% certain to become an issue. Democratic machine or no Democratic machine, this is politics today and such secrets are all but impossible to keep.

So, if Penn State knew for a long time about the allegations and the explosive nature of them and did nothing about it, how can intelligent leaders do such a thing? And Cain, did he not think or consider that he may want to be the one to bring the allegations, which he absolutely claims to be false, to the public’s attention? Hope might be a good campaign slogan, but it sucks as a crisis communication strategy.

It’s well documented that the vast majority of crises are “smoldering.” There is time to prepare. More important today, in an age when secrets are all but impossible and are always tainted with coverup, the way of dealing with bad news is to be the first to tell it.

I’m guessing there are an awful lot of future political candidates, members of boards, and senior leaders of large organizations who look at these two events with great discomfort. They know what they need to do, but dread the consequences. So, they continue to hope.

Good luck to you.

Huffington Post publishes an article I really like!

Yes, I must admit that I probably don’t fit the profile of the typical HuffPost reader. Part of that online filter bubble thing I just blogged about. But today they published an article I really, really like–and it even has my name in it.

It is a review of the film “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” which was based partly on my book “A Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald” and for which I had the privilege of serving as Executive Producer.

A couple of weeks ago my 90 year old fighter pilot friend, Joe Moser, and I were at a sold-out screening of the film in Tacoma. Afterwards, Carla Seaquist came up and introduced herself as a reporter with the Huffington Post. She did a fabulous job with this review and I really like the suggestion that PBS pay attention. This is a story that deserves to be told far and wide, in part to give honor to these brave wonderful men, all near or above 90 years of age, but also to honor all those who served with them who are no longer here to hear our expressions of admiration and appreciation.

Help spread the word–DVDs are available at www.lostairmen.com and Christmas is coming!

Eli Pariser warns of online filter bubbles

Hyper-partisanship is one of the hallmarks of our Internet-driven public discourse. Citizens and parties seem increasingly polarized with those most interested and active in political discussion and involvement seeming to move ever closer to the outer fringes.

Certainly shrill political discussion is nothing new in our nation. All one has to do is look at the Alien and Sedition Act to see how bad it used to be and how one of the worst pieces of legislation in our history came to be. Newspapers were expected to be and were stridently one-sided. But, one would think that with the Internet, with the new power of the news and commentary customer to choose, with all the tremendous options of voices, information and sources that we would gain some tolerance, some appreciation for other viewpoints, maybe even become a bit more educated.

Sadly, the opposite seems to be true. I and many other bloggers have commented on how angry so many commenters are, the foul language used, the hyper partisanship, the cock-sureness of their own perspectives. In this blog I’ve called it “toxic talk.” In this very intriguing TED talk, Eli Pariser provides some insight into how the search tools we use may be contributing to this retreat into our extremist corners. What is worse, he reflects that with the increasing complexity and sophistication of these search tools, it is almost certain that our exposure to contrary information and viewpoints will be even more limited in the future.

I recently blogged about the importance of contextualization and what this might mean for web design, apps and crisis and emergency communication in the future. Contextualization means the intelligence that the web site or application uses to detect the user’s devices, location or preferences based on previous history to quickly provide the most relevant information and presentation of that. In other words, if you hit a website seeking information, that site can detect if you are using your smartphone or laptop, if you are on the freeway stuck in traffic or sitting in your home, and if you prefer to approach issues from a left or right perspective. Then it delivers content specific to you.

I think that is pretty cool and will be powerful way of communicating. But, Eli has made me nervous about that. There is a dark side to the increasing power of technology used in this way. I echo his appeal to those writing these algorithms. Think about what you are doing. Recognize that the efficient delivery of relevant information may further our slide into hyper-partisanship and declining education levels.

(Thanks much Jeff, for the heads up on this!)