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.

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12 Responses to “DePauw and Delta Zeta–the story goes on…”

  1. Carl Carter Says:

    “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.”

    The sorority case is fascinating and troubling, but the statement above doesn’t match my experience, either from my 10 years as a reporter or my 20 years as a media relations specialist. There are always anecdotes to illustrate any position, but I haven’t bought into the core concept that competitive survival issues are causing mainstream print reporters to place circulation ahead of accuracy. The reporters I work with every day (including national media) are just more idealistic and honest than that.

    When you get beyond print, it gets more difficult. TV is far more about ratings. And when you move into web media and blogs, it’s a world that’s in so much transition it’s difficult to draw any conclusions for the moment.

    But like you, I’m trying to figure it out, and I greatly enjoy and appreciate crisisblogger.

  2. Norman Pressman Says:

    This is not a media created story. Its a story about a nationla Franchisor which ethnically and blubberly cleansed social unwanted people. If anything the media has underplayed this story-The National office clamed up-it didn’t deny any of the facts but in a typical Rush Limbaugh type fashion blamed the “media” ignoring the fact that without exception right wing and left wing media outlets attacked this action. National dindn’t deny the facts.

    Furthermore there was not a single report nor a single blog entry of which I am aware of a DZ alum or member calling for the national leadership’s resignation. That’s a story.

    Furthermore if you’ll look up the IRS form 990 forms for the DZ Fondation on Guidestart you’ll see that this so called charitable organization has outragoues adminstration costs and appears to give use the mahjority of its net funds to help DZ members-that is its a group of college students raisng money for each other’s tuition.

    Has anyone found a single DZ member asking for the National staff’s resignation? Too bad there is no National Convention next year but the summer of 2008 should be a fun even for those who attend.

  3. gbaron Says:

    Mr Pressman, actually several of the commentators on this blog alone have suggested the resignations–so you are incorrect about no blog entries calling for that. But I’m wondering what your basis is for claiming that this was a matter of ethnic cleansing of social unwanted people. Such a strong position would suggest that you have some evidence that so far the rest of us do not have access to. I’d love to understand better why you are making that accusation.

  4. Norman Pressman Says:

    Mr. or Mrs. Gbaron:

    Take a look at the DZ national web site and you’ll see both pictures and cartoon caractures of what the national considers a model member. Then take the undisputed facts that the only Korean, Vietnamese and Black members and all of the overweight members were cleansed. Even the osterich like national office hasn’t denied these facts-instead they have claimed that despite the incredible coinincidence that the cleansed students didn’t meet their appearance standards and they were kicked out (don’t give me that “alumnae status” bull) based on their failure to recruit.

    Let’s face it DZ has the right to admit whomever it wants and its been true since I was in school in the 60’s that certain Greek groups had certain image requirements for admission. The offensive thing here is that the “rebranding” of the local office affected people’s lives and was cruel.

    Finally if you want more evidence that the DZ National office and its franchise chapters are more concnered with image that character take a look at the incredibly stupid “Mr. Wright State” contest being conducted by that DZ chapter there in the midst of this national disaster-“Its like the Ms. America contet but for men” says the local chapter president. It’s a beatutry contest for men but the winner get’s a scholarship! How wonderful! At 59 I don’t think I could win the speedo contest but I might do well in the interview-I know the answer to all the questions is “World Peace” or should it be “A Piece”

    And I’d appreciate a single link to a single DZ member or alum who calls for resignation. Are you a DZ?

  5. GB Says:

    Nope, Mr. Pressman, I’m not a DZ and have no agenda one way or the other about DZ or any Greek organization. By the way, my name is Gerald just to end the confusion about Mr or Mrs. I’m 55 and would also hate to think about particicpating in any speedo contest.

    I don’t know if there is racism or discrimination on the basis of body types within this organization or any other. And that was not my point. I criticized the media coverage because it seemed on first glance (and confirmed by further information from all sides) that the story is essentially about a conflict between the university and the sorority and the resulting pressure to heavily recruit. But that was not the story that the reporter told. That’s what concerns me and that issue is what I will continue to focus on–not the pros and cons of sororities or fraternities or whether or not they have good leadership. I have neither the interest nor expertise to comment on those things.

  6. Jim Lucas Says:

    GB,
    If Mr Pressman wants some link to people calling for those resignations he can Google “Delta Zeta + Depauw” and do his own research(as i have for about the last two months) .
    I think we are all agreed that the big thing in this tory is “perception”. The National office made the mistake that people would buy their story of “recruitment commitment”. They would have been better served by not changing the status of some of the women, and still allowing all of thm to live in the house.Showing goodwill rather than an adversarial position would have also been more of an advantage in their larger goal of increasing membership and increasing the viability of the chapter.
    This would have even been more in line with Mr. Pressman’s ham-handed analogy of Delta Zeta as a business(which it is not). While to those on the outside of a fraternal organization it may look as such, many of us join because we believe in what the organization stands for. That’s why this story has such legs. That is something that cannot be bought, nor sold.

  7. KatherineJ Says:

    Hello, I am a Delta Zeta (alumna), an initiate of Alpha Alpha chapter (Northwestern University). When this DePauw story blew up last month (has it been that long?), I immediately attempted to track down some DZ alums for their input, including an e-mail to the alumnae addy in my area, and another mass e-mail to a professional fraternity to which I also belong (and in which I am, frankly, more involved).

    My e-mail specifically sent to the DZ alumnae was never sent by the DZ who controls that listserv. She did forward it to the alumnae president in my community, though, who did speak with me for I would say a half hour on the phone.

    The alumnae president assured me that steps were being taken to address the situation: the sorority hired a PR firm to strategize. Also, I got the full story about the DuPauw girls meeting to close the chapter, and that National came in to discuss the collegians’ commitment to recruitment.

    Time dulls all wounds (rather than heals them), but I still have a number of questions and concerns that have been addressed poorly or not at all:

    -Why would National give what was essentially an eviction notice to the collegians whom they ascertained were not committed to recruitment the week before finals? When I spoke with the alumnae president, she said that National agreed that the collegians should have been contacted in person, or the letters should have been sent to them sooner. Personally, I agree with the decision of DePauw’s president that collegians should not be kicked out during the academic year at all unless there is some moral turpitude (did I spell that right?) issue.

    -In the early responses to the allegations that DZ discriminated based on personal appearance, both Menges and the National Pres, as well as others, parroted the section of the DZ constitution that says we don’t discriminated based on race, religion, etc. Nowhere in that section is there any mention of image or personal appearance.

    On the other hand, the DePauw DZs screwed up a bit, too. When the college chapter president tells DZ’s national recruitment rep (whatever her title is) that DZ is seen “at the bottom of the barrel” (if I remember the web Newsweek quote correctly) of DePauw’s Greek community and sounds nonchalant about it, that is a cause for concern, if not alarm. But National’s treatment of things, albeit from my isolated viewpoint, is that they reacted out of all proportion. Yes, you need to make or get as close as possible to making quota – that’s how you keep your chapter going. But IMO, National treated our DePauw sisters like employees rather than sisters. Furthermore, National’s response to the situation and the ongoing press has resembled the worst of corporations: spin, spin, and spin some more. They should have acted like Tylenol after the drug tampering; instead, they’ve chosen to act like Valdez-era Exxon.

    KJ

    P.S. The only non-BS or non-company-line responses I have received (and they have been few regardless) have been from other Greek sorority members. The few DZs who have contacted me back totally go with National’s line. The DePauw collegians have since begun their own sorority, sanctioned by the dean. It’s not official yet, but if they succeed and go national, maybe I’ll join them. I’ve been thinking about attending convention, to attempt to vote out the National board. But I wonder about the usefulness of that, especially since there is plenty of time for the DePauw story to get buried. The only hope I see presently is DZ totally tanking quota nationally for a rush period or more – that may (MAY) have folks step back and take a look at what havoc image-consciousness has wreaked on our sorority.

  8. Norman Pressman Says:

    Jim:

    I did google-and have been googling and guess what? all the DZ’s seem to agree with the National Office. Thus its reasonable to assume that the average DG alum and member favor ethnic and blubber cleansing.

    In terms of crisis managing I guess the key here is to know your client and your goal. If your goal is to protect the entrenched leadership and circle the wagons so everyone keeps their jobs DZ has been given good advice-No one has lost their job. If your goal is to help the DZ brand retain its value this has been a failure because nation wide they become laughable.

    Any objective person wanting to help DZ would have told the national lay leadership to immediately fire the professionals respsponsible for doing the cleansing, invite the members who had been resettled back in the fold or alternatively offered them free room and board for the rest of their term at DePauw. Can anyone doubt that DZ’s national image has been hurt?

    If I were advising DZ (and someone would listen)I’d also have had them issue this press release:

    “DZ’s Creed stands for justice and fairness-to its xxxthousand members and alums its not mere empty words Unfortunately, some of our professional staff forgot this creed in a mistaken effort to bring more members into the DePauw house. Thosee staffers have been asked for their resignations which have been accepted. We have invited the offended members back into the house and to active membership or alternaitvely offered them expense free housing of their chosing for the rest of their undergraduate careers. These actions have been taken because the national membership of this 100 year old institution recognized the unfairness of the initial action.

    In short our professional leadership made a mistake, the membership has corrected it and is initiating efforts to make sure it is not repeated”

    Had this been done on Day 4 there would have been no further story. Instead the moron leadership continues its mindless attack on the press. Alternatively maybe the DZ Creed doesn’t stand for anything-given the lack of action or words by the membership and alums. I’d also have advise the twits at the Wright State Chapter to cancel the “Mr. Wright State Contest”

  9. Jim Lucas Says:

    Norman,
    The citymama.typepad.com blog had so many comments between DZs critical of Nationials that she had to close the comments on it. Other than the fact that I say that there have been critics of the National leadership,I am in 100% agreement of what you just posted in your last comment

  10. Jim Lucas Says:

    Unbelievably, this is the story that just won’t die.

  11. Norman Pressman Says:

    Jim:

    The National DZ leadership has been proven to be guilty of ethnic and blubber cleansing-And until this week I thought they had made every possible public relations mistake possible-Now they sue DePauw. I’m looking forward to see the complaint.

    Instead of the story dying and outliving its fifteen minutes they’ll be the butt of more Leono and Stewart jokes. I can just imagine the next Gilbert Gottfried sketch!

    If this goes to a live trial you’ll have Gretta Van Sustern there along with her fellow travelers-great way to promote Greek life and DZ-Even if it doesn’t go to trial the pleadings will be public. DZ’s statement that it hopes to settle the matter is also ludicrous. DePauw’s administration has no choice but to fight this suit all the way lest they be perceived as being in sensitve to the cleansed students.

    Someone at DZ ought to write a book on how to perpetuate 21st centry Greek myths and how not to handle a crisis-

    Surely even you Greek types can’t believe these morons!

  12. Wendi Taylor Nations Says:

    In response to Mr. Pressman’s comment that all DZ alums appear to agree with National: I am a DePauw grad, Delta Zeta, AND a public relations professional. On February 25, I submitted this letter to The NY Times and The DePauw student newspaper.

    http://www.depauw.edu/student/greek/documents/lettersOfSupport/The%20DePauw%20LTE.pdf

    In it, I called for the resignation of Delta Zeta’s leadership. Now, over a month after this story began in the NY Times, I can’t believe Cindy Menges is still employed!


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