Archive for March 14th, 2007

DePauw and Delta Zeta–the story goes on…

March 14, 2007

After reading the very thoughtful and thought provoking comments of Michael about my criticism of the New York Times article re Delta Zeta, I decided this was a comment deserving some response. But my first comment is about the blogworld and how it changes the nature of crisis management. I pointed out in Now Is Too Late (written in 2001) that the Internet was greatly lengthening a story. The mainstream media will cover it and then typically quickly move on and the story is gone, but those most interested and impacted by the story will continue the discussion for a long time. Interestingly, I still see most communication professionals operating as if when the media interest has left, the story is over and it is time to stop communicating. One even shut down a website that was getting tens of thousands of hits a day based on the idea that the media interest was gone and there was no more new information to communicate. Well, if the conversation is still going on, there is still much reason to keep communicating. And this Delta Zeta story is an excellent example.

I very much appreciate Michael’s questions and comments regarding my take on the story. In part because even though he strongly disagrees with me, unlike at least one other commenter on this blog, he kept his remarks to the topic and didn’t slip into personal attack. Thanks, Michael. This is the way these conversations ought to go, I think.

Most of the numerous people who have commented since I first posted have far greater involvement in the issue than I did. I responded because one of my blog readers (wahine) suggested I comment. I did so in complete and blissful ignorance. I don’t know DePauw, have never been a part of the Greek system, never heard of Delta Zeta before, on and on. But I do have one clear bias from my many years of work in this business. Reporters all too frequently write a story in a way that seems more aimed at generating interest and readers than in any strict adherence to what is happening and the truth.

I stand by that assessment of this situation. One has become very clear as my knowledge of the situation has increased thanks to the many commenters here: the story is far more complicated than what the NYT reported. And that is a big part of my point. It is complicated. To suggest as they did, based on the bitterness expressed of some (but clearly not all) of the students involved that this was about discrimination against race and unattractiveness, was unfair, unwarranted, and way way too simplistic. As to what Delta Zeta leadership did wrong was not in my knowledge or purview. Same for DePauw leadership, except I noted the big difference between what the reporter said the role of the president was vs. Delta Zeta leadership–and subsequent information bears out a much higher degree of responsibility than the report indicated.

I realize that most who are following this story are doing so because they care about the university, the chapter, the sorority and other organizations or people closely involved. That is not my interest. I am a disinterested observer fascinated by how the media deals with complex stories. And, greatly concerned about how organizations and people can be so easily and callously hurt by media coverage that seems aimed at their own interests of attracting audiences rather than accurate, truthful, complete and comprehensive coverage of events.

Thanks again Michael, and please comment anytime.