Category Archives: New York Times

NIU tragedy, Roger Clemens, Blackberry and New York Times cuts newsroom staff

There is a lot going on for a crisis blogger to write about. Being on the road (Pasadena, CA this time) makes it hard to keep up. The NIU tragedy is depressing and horrifying–in part because it seems that these situations may accelerate. There will be much handwringing about what to do to prevent it from happening again. I hate to see our nation and campuses become impregnable fortresses in efforts to maintain safety.

One impact of the NIU incident is to push Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee and Henry Waxman off the front page. Of the three, I can only imagine Mr. Waxman being upset about it. Frankly, I’m appalled that the business of Congress is tied up in trying to determine which of these two is lying. There can be only one justification for creating this circus–and that is Chairman Waxman knew that it would generate celebrity news coverage and given Mr. Clemens’ bulldog personality, it was sure to create fuel for the media fires. He was right–but shame on him. What is the national interest here? Is it really up to Congress to keep our national pastime clean? And what is with the ridiculously partisan questioning. Why would Republicans line up on one side and Democrats on the other? If anyone wonders why Congress’s approval ratings are even lower than the President’s, Mr. Waxman’s antics and many others of his ilk are likely culprits.

I blogged earlier about Mr. Clemens’ effort to protect his reputation. He is taking the kind of aggressive, in your face defense that has been promoted by Eric Dezenhall, which is (mostly) appropriate if and only if he is absolutely as clean as he adamantly professes to be. There is no room for shades here–he has left no room. My concern expressed earlier was that if he is not as clean as he so vehemently states, then his reputation will be damaged as much or more by his bald-faced lying than by his use of illegal substances. The jury is still out–sort of. But what I have been reading is that both McNamee and Clemens have come out of this bloodied but Clemens the most. It does come down to credibility and credibility is what reputation is all about–and Clemens’ credibility went down in many minds after the testimony. The story is not finished, but the end looks increasingly predictable.

Back to NIU. I was somewhat surprised by the focus of the stories on how well NIU communicated. Not surprising on the one hand since the story out of  Virginia Tech was primarily about failings to respond quickly and communicate well. USA Today had a detailed timeline of when the event happened, when the website had information about it, when text messages were sent, when the public address system was used, emails, voice mails, etc. According to the report, all these occurred at 3:20 p.m. Thirteen minutes after the shootings occurred. One student in the article reported getting an email at 3:41. All of this is quite remarkable and may be a demonstration of just how much university leaders have learned from VT and how far they have come in meeting todays demands for speed, direct communication and transparency. Admittedly, the situation at NIU was quite different–no earlier attack, a short shooting spree, and then the shooter was dead. Still, it appears that NIU has demonstrated what can and needs to be done and set a standard for all universities facing similar circumstances.

One student being interviewed on tv last night commented that she just wanted to talk to her family but couldn’t get out–presumably with her cell phone. It will be interesting to dive deeper and see how many voice messages and text messages were received and how the common problem of immediate jamming up of the campus phone systems–even email systems–may have impacted message delivery.

Regarding the Research in Motion (Blackberry) outage crisis (or crises I should say given that this was one of several outages), I was interviewed by Michael Sebastian of Ragan Communications. I was probably a little harsh but felt it was quite ironic that one of the creators of the instant news world apparently has not been able to meet some of the challenges that they were a part of creating.

Finally, the New York Times job cuts.  Cutting 100 out of 1300+ newsrooms jobs may not seem like big news. But for those of us in reputation management and crisis communication it is big news. The icon of serious journalism is being seriously impacted by the huge shifts in the economics of news. I’ve commented here frequently on what that means. In short–increased desperation to keep audiences, more stretched news staffs, further shifts to online media. All these things have great and grave implications not just for the traditional media, but for those who need to work with them in building and protecting reputations. Add to this something I noticed on CNN’s website last night looking at the NIU coverage. They were aggressively asking survivors and people who were there to submit their accounts and photos and videos to CNN. In other words, they were enlisting the help of citizen journalists. It is the future, folks. While paid news staffs are declining, news agencies are aggressively looking to bolster their coverage of instant news by engaging the millions of amateur journalists and those who just happen to be there with a cellphone camera.

Adding to the Delta Zeta story's legs

Today’s Bulldog Reporter Daily Dog newsletter includes a piece I wrote about what is happening to the media and using my analysis of the coverage of the Delta Zeta story as an example.

I commented yesterday about how the discussion about Delta Zeta and the NYT’s coverage is lasting well beyond the newspaper’s coverage. An important lesson for crisis communicators because this lengthens greatly the time of a crisis event and adds to the need to continue communicating. Those involved in the discussion after the media flash has gone are frequently the most interested and the most passionate about the topic (as some of the comments on crisisblogger can demonstrate.) Now I find myself contributing to the phenomenon.

I look forward to the discussion that will come from this. I just read the comment from Carl who points out the difference between print media and broadcast–noting that broadcast tends to the more sensational and entertainment focus rather than print because it is so driven by immediate ratings. I agree, Carl, but that too is changing. As all print media now have their news websites, they have become broadcasters. They not only now compete more on the basis of speed–immediacy is everything–but they also compete on the basis of immediate ratings. The ad dollars they generate both on their sites and by driving site viewers to their print versions is based on traffic to their sites. They are now also ratings driven and I think we are seeing the result of that. Whether or not the Delta Zeta story is an example, I am not sure. But more and more all news media are competing on similar terms and based on quickly generating as big an audience as they can.

A Media-created crisis? The Delta Zeta Sorority Problem

A crisisblogger commenter requested my take on the Delta Zeta sorority crisis, and as I have had my head down in two solid days of meetings, I have to admit to only hearing a passing reference to some sorority problem in conversation. And that comment was, interestingly, that they kicked out everyone who wasn’t pretty.

So, I thought I would look at what this is all about. I found the New York Times story which ran on February 25. Then I looked up what Delta Zeta might have to say about this. What I found, from this quick little review, is a crisis vulnerability that faces far more organizations than most realize. At this point, I would put this one in the category of a media-created crisis and not a crisis created by egregious action on the part of the organization.

What the Times said happened: Some psych prof at DePauw did a survey and found the perceptions students had of the Delta Zeta sorority were “socially awkward.” The sorority, concerned about its image, responded by dumping all the less than attractive and popular women, all the overweight girls, and picking particularly on all the members of non-white races and colors.

Wow. Pretty damning. That is one bad bunch of ladies. They could only find a dozen that fit the profile of members they wanted, however half of them were so upset by the profiling and evictions that they quit. The president of DePauw was so upset at them that he wrote a long letter of reprimand. Then the newspaper story goes on to list the long history of other racial offenses this DePauw university chapter has had over the year.

Is this the truth?

Let’s hear what Debbie Raziano, the National President of Delta Zeta has to say:

– because of recruitment problems the organization voted to close the DePauw chapter last year to relieve the few women there from the duty of active recruitment

– The university denied the request saying that if they left now they couldn’t come back. The university asked the chapter to do a “membership review.”

– Based on this request the chapter asked who would be willing to aggressively recruit new members. The women who were “evicted” decided they did not want and therefore were given a certain period of time to leave.

– that was the sole basis for determining who would go or who would stay

If you look closely at the NYT story, you see that explanation barely covered in there. But it is completely lost in the spin of the story. Now, I am going to take what the sorority president says at face value here, partly because it makes sense and partly because the media’s behavior here falls so typically into the way the entertainment-based “news” media operates that this is too good to pass up.

The story the reporter had in mind was clearly made before he did any interviews. He was careful not to let the facts of the story interfere with the story he had already created in mind. Yes, he offered their explanation. But only after he says the officers “declined to be interviewed” but then provides emailed answers to questions (apparently to this reporter, only talking to him on the phone counts as an interview. Warning to communicators–beware the reporter who does not treat your email communication as legitimate response because you have a high degree of likelihood that they do not want a written record of what you provided. Gives you basis for complaint about being misquoted.)

In short, this looks to me to be an all too typical hack job. From the NYT no less–but after watching the three part series “News War” on PBS, my trust suspicions and mistrust about the news media has been amplified.

If what Delta Zeta says is right, there is a real problem with the president of DePauw. He might have had the opportunity as an objective third party to stop this train wreck from happening. If they are right in saying it was his actions that prompted their membership review and he put the pressure on recruitment, then for him to stand on the side and say oh my god look at those bad ladies is political but not honorable. I’d love to see his explanation.
I may not have this right at all. In my take on this, the NYT put the black hat squarely on the sorority and got complicity from the university president. If they are right, they not only don’t deserve this but the black hat should be squarely placed on the NYT. As for their crisis management of this–not good. If my understanding and interpretation is right, a lot stronger sense of righteous indignation against the paper and the university would be necessary for people to understand that this is one more example of name calling in order to grab headllines. What they did right, however, was put their statements–very poorly written and constructed–on their website and made them accessible to people like me sitting on the sidelines and making probably incorrect judgments about it all.