Business Communication



Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


Typo Adds 3 1/2 Years to Prison Sentence

04-16-2014 6:50 PM

If you need convincing to proofread, this may do it. Federal prisoner Ceasar Huerta Cantu discovered an error while reading a legal report about his case. Using federal guidelines for sentencing, the report noted that Cantu's offense was level 36 instead of 34. 

It took President Obama's clemency powers to fix the mistake. White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said, "It’s hard to imagine that someone in the federal criminal justice system could serve an extra three-plus years in prison because of a typographical error."

Obama Commutation

Cantu's attorney and the judge who presided over his case both missed the mistake. Six years later, when Cantu brought the case forward, another judge denied the request to cut his sentence by 42 months, saying it was too late.

The case is particularly relevant now that the Obama Administration is reviewing commutation powers and because of harsh federal drug sentences. According to The New York Times, "Over his first five years in office, Mr. Obama granted fewer acts of clemency than any modern president." As Cantu's new attorney says, "If you’re familiar with federal drug laws, they are very punitive, and I deal with them all the time,” he said. “Any chance you get to right that, I think that’s a good thing."

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you think a mistake like this could happen? How could it have been avoided?
  • Should Cantu's original attorney be held responsible for missing the error? Should the original judge?
  • Did President Obama do the right thing? What about other prisoners who seek clemency?

Posted by Amy Newman

Comparing Heartbleed Emails

04-15-2014 4:57 PM

By now, most people know about Heartbleed, the computer vulnerability that takes advantage of a programming flaw in websites' OpenSSL encryption code. As we wait to see which sites are affected, companies are beginning to send emails to customers. We can compare these bad-news messages in the same way we looked at emails about the Epsilon security breach back in 2011.

Here are the emails I've seen so far:

Discussion Starters:

  • What differences do you notice among these emails? Consider the message, tone, organization, and so on.
  • What could account for these differences?

Posted by Amy Newman

Communications About California Bus Tragedy

04-12-2014 5:59 PM

A terrible bus accident left ten people dead, including five high school students on a Preview Plus tour of Humboldt State College. This was a special trip for first-generation and low-income students see the college where they were accepted and might attend the following year. More than 30 people were injured.

A FedEx truck jumped the median and crashed into the bus, creating a horrible scene of students and their chaperones trying to escape. So far, a FedEx spokesperson has made this statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California. We are cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate."

Humboldt posted this message on its website:

Humboldt State University

Here are two excerpts from a news conference.

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Homboldt's website post. In what ways is it what you would expect, and how, if it all, is it different?
  • Assess FedEx's statement. Given the recency, is the statement appropriate? Should the company say anything else?
  • Assess the comments in both videos for emotional appeal and handling questions. What works well,  and what could be improved?

Posted by Amy Newman

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Paula Deen Forgot to Tell Her Employees She's Closing the Restaurant

04-09-2014 6:26 PM

Chef and restaurant owner Paula Deen is in the news again. Last June, she made headlines for racist comments. She apologized but lost her TV and endorsement deals and never fully recovered her reputation.

Now, she and her brother decided to close Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House, the restaurant where the controversy started. They announced the decision on Facebook but failed to tell their employees, who showed up for work only to collect their severance pay.

Paula Deen FB post

As predicted, opponents and allies were active on the company's Facebook page, which has since been taken down.

Paula Deen FB post 2

Meanwhile, Deen has been "business-as-usual" on her Twitter feed:

Paula Deen twitter

Discussion Starters:

  • In my Corporate Communication course, we talk about the best order for notifying internal and external audiences of a change. Identify all of the audiences that should have been notified and the ideal sequencing of messages.
  • What could be the owners' rationale for not telling employees before announcing the decision on Facebook? The Associated Press called the move "abrupt." Does that justify how this was communicated?
  • Paula Deen seems to be silent during the latest controversy. Is that the best approach? If so, why? If not, what should she do or say?

Posted by Amy Newman

Joy Behar Roasts Chris Christie

04-08-2014 7:01 PM

The video is rough, but we can watch comedian Joy Behar roast New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at an event to celebrate a former governor's 90th birthday. Behar poked fun at Christie's weight and the bridge scandal: "When I first heard that he was accused of blocking off three lanes on the bridge, I said, ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?"

A story in The New Yorker described the scene in the video above:

"After another barb, Christie interrupted her. 'This is a Byrne roast,' he said. He stood up and tried to grab her notes. The audience laughed awkwardly. 'Stop bullying me,' Behar said as he sat down. Christie said something out of earshot and Behar responded, 'Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?' Christie stood up again and moved in front of the lectern as Behar retreated.  'At least I don’t get paid for this,' he said.

"Christie sat down and Behar continued, though she was noticeably rattled. 'I really don’t know about the Presidency,” she said. 'Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.'"

Discussion Starters:

  • After watching the video clip, I wouldn't have described the scene as The New Yorker author did. How about you? What could explain the difference?
  • What's a roast? Research the history and purpose. Why are insults accepted—even expected—while they would be shunned in most business settings?

Posted by Amy Newman

ABC's Video for Facebook Likes

04-08-2014 12:24 PM

ABC celebrates 1 million Facebook likes with a video. 

Deadline put the video in context:

"The Facebook milestone is fun news for the ABC newscast, in contrast to the nicking it suffered last week in the press when it dropped mention of that day’s landmark ruling  from the Supreme Court striking down cumulative caps on individual political donations in order to make room for breaking news about that day’s shootings at Fort Hood, while hanging on to reports about why zebras have stripes, Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese formula change,  and the stray dog adopted by the Milwaukee Brewers."

It's funny that this excerpt mentions Kraft. The other Facebook-like video I remember is for Kraft Mac 'n Cheese—much more fun than ABC's.

Discussion Starters:

  • Compare ABC's video to Kraft's. What are the purpose and audience for each?
  • Does ABC have to include the Nationwide Insurance ad before we watch its promotional ad?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Your Neighbor . . . Is a Parasite" Flyer

04-06-2014 8:13 PM

Kevin Rose's neighbors have posted flyers identifying him as a "parasite." The founder of Digg and a Google Ventures partner was outed as one who is "destroying San Francisco" by directing funds for start-up companies.

   Rose Flyer

In a tweet, Rose did concede some points: 

Rose Tweet

The protest is a continuation of those angry at the so-called "Google Bus," which shuttles people to work at technology companies. Activists claimed, "This is the opposite of school busing. We’re busing wealthy, predominantly white adults into low-income neighborhoods, where they in turns displace low-income people. This is the reverse of affirmative action."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • To what extent do you empathize with the protestors? What are their points? 
  • What's your assessment of this group's approach of posting flyers? When I first saw the headline, I thought Rose was a pedophile.

Posted by Amy Newman

New Mozilla CEO Resigns

04-06-2014 6:50 AM

Firefox maker Mozilla is in the news because its new CEO was criticized for opposing same-sex marriage. In 2008, he gave $1000 to support Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. Within two weeks of Brendan Eich's appointment, he resigned because of the controversy.

On the Mozilla blog, board chair Mitchell Baker wrote this explanation:

Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.

We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.

Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community.

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.

While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better.

We need to put our focus back on protecting that Web. And doing so in a way that will make you proud to support Mozilla.

What’s next for Mozilla’s leadership is still being discussed. We want to be open about where we are in deciding the future of the organization and will have more information next week. However, our mission will always be to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just: that’s what it means to protect the open Web.

We will emerge from this with a renewed understanding and humility — our large, global, and diverse community is what makes Mozilla special, and what will help us fulfill our mission. We are stronger with you involved.

Thank you for sticking with us.

Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman

But the situation isn't so clear-cut. A New York Times article discussed the controversy: "The public campaign against Mr. Eich was unseemly and disturbing." The article also quoted The Dish editor: "If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."

Mozilla published an FAQ, denying that Eich was fired or resigned under pressure from the board or employees. For his part, Eich wrote a blog post, "The Next Mission," to announce his resignation and present questions for the company's future.

Discussion Starters:

  • Was it the right decision for Eich to resign? 
  • Assess the board chair's statement. What works well, and what doesn't seem to work?
  • Read Mozilla's FAQ about the situation. What questions may be missing?

Posted by Amy Newman

NSA's New Press Kit

04-04-2014 10:24 AM

The National Security Agency (NSA) published a shiny, new press kit to try to change its image. Damaged by reports of spying, the NSA's reputation could use some freshening up.

NSA press kit

With self-aggrandizing phrases, such as, "Saving Lives," "Cybersecurity: A Team Sport," "Operating as a Responsible Citizen," and "The Mission that Never Sleeps," the NSA is trying to combat negative perceptions.

The kit also addresses "Myths" about the NSA, such as, "The NSA has agents who can arrest hackers or other cyber bad guys," and "NSA monitors the world’s communications systems at all times."

Discussion Starters:

  • Read the entire press kit. What are the NSA's main messages?
  • Assess the text and graphics. How well do they work together? What images are most prevalent in the kit?
  • Which themes or points do you find most and least convincing?

Posted by Amy Newman

Barra Answers Tough Questions at the Hearing

04-04-2014 9:37 AM

GM CEO Mary Barra faced a panel of angry senators at the hearing investigating the company's failure to fix faulty ignition switches. Barra began by reading her testimony:

The New York Times describes the scene:

"As family members of victims looked on, senators repeatedly cut off Ms. Barra, scolded her over failing to have answers and zeroed in on G.M.’s potential criminal liability for failing to fix defective ignition switches in millions of small cars for more than a decade."

The Times blog identified a few highlights from the questioning, including this reaction from a victim's father:  

"She’s not doing anything except stonewalling and saying she’s a mother and has children and is sorry and is communicating with the families."

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Barra's initial testimony. What works well in convincing the senators, and what could be improved?
  • One of Barra's strategies is to try to distinguish herself from the "old GM." How well is this strategy working?
  • Watch more of the hearings on YouTube or news sites. How well is Barra handling the senators' questions?

Posted by Amy Newman

Teenager Proposes Font Change for $234m in Savings

04-03-2014 11:46 AM

A 14-year-old boy claimed that the U.S. government could save $234 million by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond. But The Washington Post reports, "That claim is patently false."

Suvir Mirchandani, from Pittsburgh, made a good point: a smaller or thinner font could reduce paper and toner expenses. Garamond simply takes less ink than does Times New Roman.


But experts say that the government doesn't print nearly the quantity that Mirchandani estimated in his paper, published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators. The Government Printing Office, which prints about half of the government's work, spent only $700,000 on ink last year. Mirchandani admits that he didn't get his information directly from the government in time for his paper to be published.

Second, Mirchandani failed to consider that the font change, as you see above, makes the printing harder to read. That's a real consequence of a smaller or thinner font—and who knows what problems that would cause and how much they would cost.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • Read Mirchandani's paper. Can you identify the flaws?
  • How would you describe the consequences of a font that's more difficult to read? Consider who reads government documents and for what reasons.

Posted by Amy Newman

GM's Cobalt Recall Site

04-01-2014 4:17 PM

For the unfortunate customers who own a Chevy Cobalt, GM has created a dedicated recall website.

  GM recall site

The site includes a series of Q&A and links to a "gallery" of videos between 23 and 48 seconds long. The site als0 includes this graphic and a video that repeats this "3-Point Check Plan." 

GM 3-Point

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess the short videos on the website: what works well, and what could be improved? 
  • The "3-Point Check Plan" tells customers what to do with their key chain, that they should talk to the dealer, and how to reach the company. Do we need a graphic and a video for that? Are GM's communications too simple? Or am I underestimating what customers need?

Posted by Amy Newman

American Airlines' "Deaf and Dumb" Note

04-01-2014 10:31 AM

AA noteAmerican Airlines has apologized for writing a note about a "deaf and dumb" couple. The couple vacationed in Hawaii but had their luggage lost. When they received their baggage, they saw the note shown here.

The man's mother called the note "outrageous and cruel and unnecessary." She also said, "The public hopefully has been educated a little more to know that the term 'deaf and dumb' has no place in our society, like other derogatory labeling of other good people."

In response, the airline sent this apology:

"There was no malicious intent on the part of the baggage handler. He was trying to warn the driver delivering the couple’s lost bag to text them (not call them) for they are both deaf and 'mute.' But he isn’t a native English speaker and a common substitute word in many cultures (obviously, going out of practice in English) is 'dumb.' AA has reached out to the family to apologize & convey there was no insult intended. The handler, along with many other employees, will undergo sensitivity training."

Video source: ABC News.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of American Airlines' response? Does it adequately explain the situation?
  • We haven't seen the airlines' apology to the couple. What would be an appropriate approach and message? In other words, what media should be used, who should initiate the communication, and what should be said?


Posted by Amy Newman

British Street Signs Omit Apostrophes

03-30-2014 11:54 AM

In Britian, apostrophists are marking street signs to correct what they consider an assault on the English language. King's Road has become Kings Road to help emergency vehicles get to the right address, a problem that recently led to a teenager's death. The British government has recommended no punctuation in street signs.Apostrophist

One grammarian defended the corrections to street signs: "If the apostrophe needs to be there, I don't think it's vandalism because I would say the language is being vandalised." And the chair of the Apostrophe Protection Society said, "I don't know why their computers couldn't be trained to recognise an apostrophe."

This isn't the first time someone took a black marker or paintbrush to a sign. In 2009, a British man added an apostrophe to correct a "St. John's Close" sign in front of his house. But it didn't last: neighbors scratched off his work. At the time, the government council favored no punctuation "for the sake of 'simplicity.'" 

Visitors to the stairwell in the Beck Center at Statler Hall at Cornell may notice, in addition to the faint smell of smoke, an "n" added to "Personel." Who would do that?

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of the decision to remove punctuation from street signs: an assault on language, a practical move, or something else?
  • Should people who add signs be punished? Are they vandals?
  • How did we get to this point: why can't a GPS recognize an apostrophe?

Posted by Amy Newman

Transit Authority's Response to the "Spectacular Crash"

03-26-2014 2:16 PM

The Chicago Transit Authority isn't saying much about what the Chicago Tribune called a "spectacular crash," and video-watchers are comparing to a disaster movie.

  CTA 2

More than 30 people were injured in the accident, but the CTA's communications, as PR Daily points out, just stick to the facts:


As I theorized during the recent MTA Metro-North accident, as a government-funded organization, CTA is probably following old, conservative rules about showing remorse.

Although the CTA says it's investigating all possible causes, Robert Kelly, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, confirmed that the operator was tired: "Indications are she might have dozed off."

Discussion Starters:

  • What advice is CTA likely following in deciding how and what to communicate?
  • What advice would you give the agency if you were the director of communication? Or, another way to think about this is, what's the right thing to do?
  • Prepare a statement that the CTA could send to show that it's run by actual people.

Posted by Amy Newman

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