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Oops, she’s not dead (thank God) January 10, 2011

Filed under: Leadership — Carla Bobka @ 5:18 pm
Tags: , ,

My condolences to the families of everyone involved. For those who died, those who are injured and those with the memory of that moment. May you all find strength and peace.

On Saturday several news outlets mistakenly reported Arizona Congresswoman Giffords had died during the horrific shooting in Tuscon. Within hours chaotic details were sorted out, and follow up reports corrected the mistake. I can’t imagine what the congresswoman’s family members must have been thinking if they had their phones set to alert them to urgent news and they saw the alert like I did. Awful.

Information moves at the speed of light these days and everyone is in a hurry to break news.  I don’t want to belabor the point of who got what wrong or the exact timing or anything like that. I do want to point out an apology from NPR for them getting the information wrong. With their apology they did many things right.  These are moments when the mantle of leadership is heavy. Executive editor Dick Meyer was the right guy in this moment.

  1. Own the mistake. There’s only a few words that really do this: “sorry” and “apologize” are two of them.
  2. Reaffirm correct info – do that ahead of asserting the details about your timing.
  3. Express regret – in this case for the emotions the wrong info caused people related to those involved in the situation.
  4. State the standards of your profession – and recommit yourself to the process of you maintaining them going forward.
  5. State what you did to fix the problem – precisely where was the incorrect information posted and what did you do to fix it.
  6. Be sincere. The PR dept shouldn’t write this note, neither should legal.

The order of these 6 things matters.  If this correction had started out talking about what NPR had done to fix the problem before they reaffirmed that the congresswoman was alive, the tone of the article would be much different.

As you read Dick Meyer’s correction it sure sounds like it came from his gut. He didn’t lay blame, no quibbling, he just took ownership.

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