Mark Grimm

 

Sin State: What Penn State Should Do Next

Just as Kent State is best known for the shootings of unarmed student protestors over 40 years ago, Penn State will be long remembered for its sexual predator crisis. The university’s crisis communication mistakes have only fueled the fire.

The errors made are numerous. The cover up, Coach Paterno’s announcement he would retire after the season and then he got fired immediately, the violent student protests, and then one of the most stunning communication disasters ever — the Jerry Sandusky interview with Bob Costas. In all seriousness, only a disturbed man could believe that interview helped his cause. Enough said. But what should Penn State do next?

1- Appoint a universally admired investigator from outside the university to conduct a thorough investigation of the entire administration’s handling of the matter. Sandusky’s alleged crimes are only part of the problem, the culture that allowed for this is on trial, too.

2- Clean house. Anyone with fingerprints on this needs to get severed from the college, including board members if that is where the investigation leads.

3- Full contrition. An apology they really mean. Take down the Joe Paterno statue. This happened on his watch.

4-Restitution to any victims.

5- A clear and compelling plan to ensure this never happens again must be presented to the public. It should include a clear explanation of how it happened and why it will not happen again.

6-Penn State needs to make protecting children one of its signature charities. Doing good is always better than talking about it.

Penn State should be judged harshly for what happened there. But how it handles the aftermath will also have a lasting impact on the judgement history will make.

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Tricky Tweeting: Journalists’ Pitfalls in Social Media

How can an “objective journalist” be tweeting their opinions or posting them on Facebook? The social media revolution has created an enormous dilemma for reporters and editors with no simple answers.

AP social media guidelines for employees are clear, they “must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum” because those expressions “may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news.” Yet, journalists have to be on social media. No one engaged in gathering and reporting news can ignore what millions of their viewers, readers, and listeners are saying. We also have learned effective social media requires two-way communication with transparency from all those involved.

How can a reporter withhold what they really think and expect transparency from others? Isn’t it better to know what they really think than to keep their views hidden from us? Isn’t more disclosure one of the things journalists are fighting for all the time?

This problem is exacerbated by the blurring line between journalist and commentator. Our cable “news channels” are filled with anchors who blast away daily with opinions so personal they could scrape paint off the wall.

Like it or not, journalists are commodities. Their business role is to develop a following, a constituency that will ultimately consider buying the products and services from advertisers that pay the journalist’s salary and benefits. Those constituencies are now being built by interactive mass communication.

So what’s a decent journalist to do? First, be clear about who you are. If you are both a journalist and commentator, understand your comments affect your standing as an objective journalist. If you are a journalist alone, understand that once you state your opinion you become part of the story, part of the process of persuasion that envelops whatever controversy it might be.

There are journalists who genuinely believe being an advocate, too, is a path to a better society. To that I say, on whose terms? Isn’t the best path having a profession of hard-working people pursuing the truth each day and leaving the conclusions up to the people they serve?

It is a hard thing to bite your tongue on issues you know well. But, sometimes, it goes with the job.

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Herman Cain Crisis Communication: Amateur Hour

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s poor crisis communication is really astounding.  The sexual harassment allegations were something they were aware of long before the story broke and yet Mr. Cain stumbled badly in responding.

He first said he didn’t know about any settlement between his accusers and the National Restaurant Association (where he was CEO). He later reversed himself and said he was aware of it but wasn’t clear on the specifics. This lack of veracity makes it more difficult for him to be believed in subsequent statements.

Cain’s later focus on who may have leaked the material is another misstep. Who cares who leaked it? The facts are what matter.

For him not to have a plan ready really exposes the amateur nature of his organization. It’s a shame. The harassment allegations aside, he has an impressive personal history and a much needed business perspective.

What he should have done was tell the whole truth up front, apologize for any misconduct if there was any (at this point, we don’t know what the truth is) and then move on.

“Rolling disclosures” didn’t work for Bill Clinton and they won’t work for Herman Cain.

More on crisis communication at http://www.markgrimm.com/benefits/albanycrisiscommunications.asp

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