Friday, September 24, 2010


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

In a recent Globe and Mail column, Bruce Dowbiggin provided a good analysis an obit story gone very wrong. Former NHL coach Pat Burns has been battling cancer for a while now, and in mid-September a wire service ran a story saying his condition had worsened severely. Then Cliff Fletcher, an exec with the Maple Leafs, told some reporters that he had heard Burns passed away. The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox then tweets the “news” on his Twitter account. And then the story goes viral. Some, not all, radio and wires services run with it. But as Dowbiggin tells it, a couple hours later “Burns himself phoned TSN’s Bob McKenzie … to say he was out shopping, not checking out.” Whoops. In cases like this—whether you’ve fouled up in reporting or in talking about your company or in producing a faulty product or whatever—the rule of thumb is to ‘fess up to your mistake, and then communicate clearly what you plan to do to prevent cock-ups in future. Dowbiggin points to the case of Vancouver radio host Ray Ferraro , who admitted he made an embarrassing error and should have checked his sources, and apologized. Done deal—everyone makes mistakes. But the columnist also points to the Star’s Cox, who called the gaffe “an honest mistake” on the part of Fletcher (not himself)—not good enough, to Dowbiggin, who rightly says the real culprit is the immediacy-driven pressure cooker of social media and today’s newsrooms. That reality, of course, just makes checking facts—and being prompt in acknowledging and correcting mistakes—all the more important. So is applying the same rules to yourself as you would to anyone else, hard as that maybe. Otherwise, your credibility—and your organization’s—could well become fodder for tomorrow’s obituary page.

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