Media gatekeepers gone, replaced by arbiters of truth — you

My EMA mentor, Peter Kapcio, was one of the first to associate the concept of “management” after the word crisis. He coached, cajoled, directed, scolded and informed CEOs and company leaders from Charlotte to Chicago and all over New York. Mostly he saved their hides — if they listened to him. He’s still at it.

His in-depth article on how media relations and crisis management changed in the last three years is a deep guide to getting them right. If you’d like a full look, go to:

I’d like to riff off one point in Peter’s article, which comes from Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star. He wrote about the unimpeded flow of information into our awareness, most true, some not. The not-true parts can drop a company’s stock 10 percent in a day, wreck a public figure’s reputation overnight or be an outright hoax that seems funny to the perpetrators and the unaffected YouTube watcher, but debilitating to the victims. Whyte writes:

Where the press used to shield the public from the worst of these baseless, false and factless claims, now there’s no gatekeeper. There’s no gate. There’s not even a fence. This stuff just comes washing over us, and the press has been very slow to realize that its role is no longer gatekeeper, but referee or umpire or a judge—pick the metaphor you want—because people are looking for someone to sort this mess out.

Sorting out this mess as it washes over us resonates. Who to believe? Where do we find credibility? Whom do we trust? There remain many earnest, professional, experienced editors at most mainline news media that do their best every day to distribute a fair and pre-evaluated version of the truth.

A long-time and long-ago editor at The New York Times, Peter Khiss, once famously wrote that editors separate the wheat from the chaff and put the chaff in the paper.

Today that perfectly characterizes the internet-borne pathogens of semi-fact, nuance, advocacy, lies, distortions, half-truths, speculation, rumor, barbs, innuendo and guesswork that we must decide are either contagious or harmless and act accordingly to inoculate ourselves to maintain news health.

This makes preserving reputation even more precarious a challenge. In a media maelstrom that seems to exist to shred reputations, maintaining yours as a gold standard is ever more challenging.

To do so requires new methods, fresh awareness, renewed vigor and a commitment to creating a crisis plan, training for media interaction and being nimble, flexible and focused when someone assaults your reputation. Don’t waste hours wondering how it happened; don’t dwell on the unfairness of it all; spare no time complaining about how all the good you accomplished in the last few years washes away in a blink.

Remember, there are no more gatekeepers, no filters. A lie may start your crisis, or a fabrication, something that never happened. That can’t matter. The world moves at light speed; the enemy spreads lies via fiber optic cables. You must react instantly.

Save the recriminations for the after-party.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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