James Lee, senior VP and chief public affairs officer at ChoicePoint, spoke at the PRSA International Conference today about ChoicePointâ€™s experience with the theft of 145,000 customer records in 2005.
It was an interesting study in crisis management, but what stuck me the most was comments by him and the audience about their lousy experiences with reporters. Examples:
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story four days after news of the theft broke that claimed that ChoicePointâ€™s CEO was hiding from the media. In fact, Lee said, the CEO had been unusually open to the media, compared to executives at other companies in that situation. He had given several media interviews, but was unavailable when the Journal-Constitution reporter called. The paperâ€™s story was the only one to accuse the CEO of evasiveness.
- ChoicePoint wanted to make a careful distinction between theft of data and a hack, because the latter term implies a computer security vulnerability. This is an important distinction to investors and regulators. However, one west coast newspaper had a policy of referring to all information thefts as â€œhacks,â€ regardless of the nature of the breach. This made ChoicePointâ€™s problem look worse than it really was.
- Pressure to file on deadline forces reporters to seek opinion instead of facts because opinion is easier to get. â€œIn the real world, it takes time to find facts,â€ Lee said. â€œIf you donâ€™t have facts immediately, theyâ€™ll find some [pundit] with an opinion.â€ Early impressions tend to stick, which means that subsequent facts are buried or ignored.
- Media outlets throw business stories to inexperience reporters, who donâ€™t understand the fine points of an often complex story and need to be educated under deadline, leading to errors and misunderstanding.
- News outlets nearly always stick by their story, even when the evidence is overwhelming that theyâ€™re wrong.
- These problems are only getting worse as newsrooms cut staff and competition compresses deadlines.
PR people have to deal with the media constantly and so are more likely to have gripes with the media, but the level of frustration surprised me, nevertheless. This is one reason mainstream media gets so little sympathy for its current woes. Years of arrogance have left it with very few friends at a time when it could use a few.
This entry was posted on Monday, October 22nd, 2007 at 6:05 pm and is filed under Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.