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May 14, 2009
UH-OH! Same Subject – Conflicting Stories
A few weeks ago, the New York Times Company had to decide if it will close the Boston Globe. For weeks, the unions and management were at odds with each other, and then, concessions were being made to try to keep the Globe¹s doors open. That afternoon, I received two stories via Twitter from trusted industry sources. The stories conflicted each other within five minutes. One said the Globe would close; the other said it would stay open.
In the age of 24/7 news cycles and faster-than-light social media reports, it’s important to remind ourselves that being the first to report something isn’t always the best position to be in. What matters is the truth ­ getting the news story correct with your target audience.
I know that many of you may disagree and say that being the first to report gives you the status of being a know-it-all and an expert, but what happens when you¹re wrong, especially within five minutes?! Your credibility gets shot.
Neither of my trusted Twitterers has lost credibility with me (they both post quite a bit of very useful information), as each posted a story from a third-party; so it’s the third-parties who were ultimately incorrect. (And yes, I called both sources out on the conflict ­ and both went back for further research.) But by retweeting or forwarding any news to the Twitter public (or any other social media public) so quickly, we¹re furthering the environment of “speed journalism,” believing that we’ve passed on correct information. “Hoping” a story is correct isn’t always the right frame of mind to be in when sending newsworthy information. You need to be sure.
A few weeks ago I spoke about creating and implementing a crisis communications plan. Again, the basis of having the plan in place is so you know how to react when a crisis occurs, including how and when to disseminate information. With “speed journalism,” a crisis can be created out of thin air, just by posting two conflicting stories. One side clearly didn’t have the facts correct. And it¹s the facts, the truth, that are most important to people. All else is hearsay and conjecture until proven otherwise.
I’m a big fan of using social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to push newsworthy content quickly, but I’m an even bigger fan of getting the story right. As a PR person, it would not be in my best interest ­ or my clients’ ­ to send out incorrect information. First, I’ll only have to correct it later; second, I’ll look less credible to my targeted public.
So who was right? According to multiple sources, for now, the Globe will remain open, but I don¹t know for how long. And the story could change again tomorrow if both parties can¹t agree on further issues. My point is there are no current conflicting stories ­ everyone is saying the same thing (we’re all “on message” as all good PR people, journalists, or citizen journalists should be).
Let’s slow down a bit and think before send news that might cause conflict, even if we believe we’re right; I know our fingers and minds are oftentimes typing and thinking faster than we can synch them. Before hitting the “send” button, consider these two things: (1) would you be ok if your mother or boss read what you wrote? And (2) send the facts, please, just the facts.

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Jocelyn Brandeis is an accomplished and award-winning communications professional with more than 15 years experience in the entertainment, consumer, new media, B2B, Hispanic, and nonprofit industries. She is responsible for securing interviews and media placement and creating full PR campaigns. Since co-founding JBLH Communications, the client roster has included: National Lampoon Comedy House, Doggy Tug, Mandinez.com, Play Clay Factory, The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and The Child Center of NY.

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