There is a lot going on for a crisis blogger to write about. Being on the road (Pasadena, CA this time) makes it hard to keep up. The NIU tragedy is depressing and horrifying–in part because it seems that these situations may accelerate. There will be much handwringing about what to do to prevent it from happening again. I hate to see our nation and campuses become impregnable fortresses in efforts to maintain safety.
One impact of the NIU incident is to push Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee and Henry Waxman off the front page. Of the three, I can only imagine Mr. Waxman being upset about it. Frankly, I’m appalled that the business of Congress is tied up in trying to determine which of these two is lying. There can be only one justification for creating this circus–and that is Chairman Waxman knew that it would generate celebrity news coverage and given Mr. Clemens’ bulldog personality, it was sure to create fuel for the media fires. He was right–but shame on him. What is the national interest here? Is it really up to Congress to keep our national pastime clean? And what is with the ridiculously partisan questioning. Why would Republicans line up on one side and Democrats on the other? If anyone wonders why Congress’s approval ratings are even lower than the President’s, Mr. Waxman’s antics and many others of his ilk are likely culprits.
I blogged earlier about Mr. Clemens’ effort to protect his reputation. He is taking the kind of aggressive, in your face defense that has been promoted by Eric Dezenhall, which is (mostly) appropriate if and only if he is absolutely as clean as he adamantly professes to be. There is no room for shades here–he has left no room. My concern expressed earlier was that if he is not as clean as he so vehemently states, then his reputation will be damaged as much or more by his bald-faced lying than by his use of illegal substances. The jury is still out–sort of. But what I have been reading is that both McNamee and Clemens have come out of this bloodied but Clemens the most. It does come down to credibility and credibility is what reputation is all about–and Clemens’ credibility went down in many minds after the testimony. The story is not finished, but the end looks increasingly predictable.
Back to NIU. I was somewhat surprised by the focus of the stories on how well NIU communicated. Not surprising on the one hand since the story out of Virginia Tech was primarily about failings to respond quickly and communicate well. USA Today had a detailed timeline of when the event happened, when the website had information about it, when text messages were sent, when the public address system was used, emails, voice mails, etc. According to the report, all these occurred at 3:20 p.m. Thirteen minutes after the shootings occurred. One student in the article reported getting an email at 3:41. All of this is quite remarkable and may be a demonstration of just how much university leaders have learned from VT and how far they have come in meeting todays demands for speed, direct communication and transparency. Admittedly, the situation at NIU was quite different–no earlier attack, a short shooting spree, and then the shooter was dead. Still, it appears that NIU has demonstrated what can and needs to be done and set a standard for all universities facing similar circumstances.
One student being interviewed on tv last night commented that she just wanted to talk to her family but couldn’t get out–presumably with her cell phone. It will be interesting to dive deeper and see how many voice messages and text messages were received and how the common problem of immediate jamming up of the campus phone systems–even email systems–may have impacted message delivery.
Regarding the Research in Motion (Blackberry) outage crisis (or crises I should say given that this was one of several outages), I was interviewed by Michael Sebastian of Ragan Communications. I was probably a little harsh but felt it was quite ironic that one of the creators of the instant news world apparently has not been able to meet some of the challenges that they were a part of creating.
Finally, the New York Times job cuts. Cutting 100 out of 1300+ newsrooms jobs may not seem like big news. But for those of us in reputation management and crisis communication it is big news. The icon of serious journalism is being seriously impacted by the huge shifts in the economics of news. I’ve commented here frequently on what that means. In short–increased desperation to keep audiences, more stretched news staffs, further shifts to online media. All these things have great and grave implications not just for the traditional media, but for those who need to work with them in building and protecting reputations. Add to this something I noticed on CNN’s website last night looking at the NIU coverage. They were aggressively asking survivors and people who were there to submit their accounts and photos and videos to CNN. In other words, they were enlisting the help of citizen journalists. It is the future, folks. While paid news staffs are declining, news agencies are aggressively looking to bolster their coverage of instant news by engaging the millions of amateur journalists and those who just happen to be there with a cellphone camera.