Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Little Correction 

Why is it the news media place allegations in banner headlines on front pages and corrections in little boxes inside a newspaper or magazine?  No one likes to fess up to an error, but if journalists want to maintain credibility, they need to state loudly and boldly where and when they have gone wrong. 
This rant is brought to you courtesy of an episode that afflicted a client recently.  The government investigated the client for something the client didn't do.  The client had proof of its innocence.  That made no difference: The government wanted to make an example of someone.  There were big stories with fat headlines that trumpeted the company was under investigation.   The company's stock tanked as investors fled.  Less than two months later the government sent the company a letter saying  it had no further interest in the case.  The government, of course, did not make the letter public, which it should have done.  The company had to send out a press release.  The resulting AP story was barely a paragraph buried deeply inside the paper.
Size matters in public relations.  Big headlines and lead TV stories crush individuals and companies.  When they are wrong, journalists owe it to people they hurt to correct the mistake prominently.  Of course, they don't.  One positive turn of events is beginning to rectify this situation.  Bloggers are prominently posting corrections then discussing them loudly to make sure everyone knows The New York Times or Washington Post erred.  I  hope they extend their truth hunting beyond the political world and into business were there are plenty of mistakes that never get acknowledged or corrected. 
Since I'm in a ranting mode, I will scream about one other thing.  Government agencies rarely give anyone a clean bill of health.  The agency that investigated the client said it had no further interest in the situation, but it had some concerns that it wanted answered.  That was a way for agency personnel to rescue some self-respect for an investigation that shouldn't have been done in the first place.  Whatever happened to a simple,   "You didn't do it, and we are completely satisfied?" Arse-covering is endemic and discouraging. 
On the other hand, that means work for PR practitioners to help clients dig out of holes the clients never created in the first place. 


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