Friday, January 22, 2010

Poor Public Affairs Management

Story: Vancouver police chief says innocent man beaten by officers did not resist

Brief synopsis: a man is beaten by police after a domestic disturbance call. Problem: police were at the wrong place and the man was completely innocent. Initial press statement says the chap was beaten because he resisted arrest. This story retracts that assertion.

I’ll leave it to others to ascertain the “wrong-ness” of the police officers’ actions (read the comments in the story if you want to see that discussion). However, I feel a need to look at the way the department managed the press. The initial statement was destructive. Their credibility was significantly damaged. Leadership looks out of control, dumb, inept or unscrupulous. There are folks claiming that the powers-that-be knew full well the falseness and the only reason they’re coming “clean” is that they were caught. I have no insights into the department, so I can’t comment to the veracity of such a claim. However, this sort of error/poor judgement only feeds that sentiment, and the surrounding distrust. With the Olympics coming, the accompanying attention provides additional embarrassment.

I firmly believe that it’s better to say nothing (for a while) then to risk a gaff of this magnitude. I know that the press hungers, implores for statements NOW. That’s ok...YOU don’t need to address that. That’s not your problem. Quality information is more critical. I saw the same with the coverage of Haiti. We had estimated death-tolls minutes after the quake. That’s simply ridiculous. This is why I stop following a disaster story after I get the original details. I wait for a few days until the fog of disinformation clears. But I care more for quality data than quantity and speed. Yeah, I’m weird.



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