• British Street Signs Omit Apostrophes

    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?
  • Transit Authority's Response to the "Spectacular Crash"

    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:

    CTA

    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.
  • Fury Over AP Style Guide's Acceptance of "Over"

    The AP Style Guide has updated a grammar rule and caused an outcry on Twitter. According to the new rule, "over" is acceptable to mean "more than," which strict grammarians won't accept.

    AP Over

    AP Over 2

    AP Over 3 AP Over 4

    A 2011 Inkhouse post explains the previous distinction:

    "More than, over. More than is preferred with numbers, while over generally refers to spatial elements. The company has more than 25 employees; The cow jumped over the moon."

    AP Stylebook explained the decision:

    "We decided on the change because it has become common usage. We’re not dictating that people use ‘over’ – only that they may use it as well as ‘more than’ to indicate greater numerical value."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What would you rather do: eat glass or use "over" interchangeably with "more than"?
    • Seriously, what do you think inspires this outrage? In what ways is it justified—or not?
    • To me, these tweets are extraordinarily funny. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that's the case? 
  • Malaysia Airlines and PM Announce Demise of Flight MH370

    The Malaysia Prime Minister announced that Flight MH370 most likely ended in the Indian Ocean.

    Malaysia Airlines posted this statement on its website

    MH 370 Statement

    This message also was texted to the families:

    Malaysia text

    In a posting five hours earlier, the airline gave updates and responded to questions. The statement included a section about working with the families:

    "Yesterday, the high-level team met with families in Beijing for more than eight hours. 

    "The families asked many questions, and made detailed requests for radar readings and other data. Some of these questions could not be answered, and some of the data they requested was still being held by the investigation, as is standard procedure in investigations of this sort.

    "After meeting with the families for a total of more than twelve hours, and taking hundreds of questions, the high-level team has returned to Kuala Lumpur to discuss the matters raised at the meetings. They will return to Beijing tomorrow to continue.

    "The briefings in Kuala Lumpur over the last two days went smoothly,  and the families responded as positively as could be expected, with the families engaging with representatives from the relevant authorities.

    "It has always been our intention to keep the families as fully informed as possible. We continue to do so."

    The Guardian reports tragic scenes of families hearing the news. Their reaction is understandable and was expected: paramedics were sent to the Beijing Hotel where families were called to an "emergency briefing." 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess the prime minister's statement to the press. How well does he deliver the bad news? What is the organizational plan?
    • Assess Malaysia Airlines' statement: what works well, and what could be improved?
    • What's your view of the text message? Typically, texting isn't the best way to deliver bad news. Could this be an exception? Why?
  • New York Times Opinions About GM

    A New York Times opinion piece accused Toyota and GM of "Willfully Endangering Drivers" by delaying automobile recalls. The author partly blames the government for succumbing to pressure from the car industry and from lawmakers who opposed a 2010 Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The Act would have provided more funding to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate safety issues and improve consumers' access to safety information.

    Another New York Times story this weekend comments on GM's social media activity. On the surface, it looks like "business as usual" at GM. Recent posts describe an employee recruiting campaign, a "Fan Friday" contest, and a new FB cover photo.

    But a deeper look into posts shows individual responses to complaints. Recall issues dominate customers' comments, and GM is engaged in the conversation as in this example:

    GM FB

    How is GM's reputation faring online? According to the article, pretty well: 

    "So far, the damage to the company’s brand appears to have been minimal online.

    "Despite the barrage of headlines about federal investigations into G.M.'s decade-long failure to issue the recall, overall sentiment about G.M. and its brands on Twitter has remained the same since the crisis began. According to an analysis by Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics firm in Boston, about 26 percent of Twitter messages mentioning the company were positive, 71 percent were neutral and 3 percent were negative."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the first article? In what ways do you agree and disagree with the writer's assessment of GM?
    • Assess GM's responses on its Facebook page. What principles from Chapter 7, Responding to Negative Feedback, does the company demonstrate in this and other examples online?
  • Tobacco Free New York Radio Ads

    Last month, CVS announced the decision to stop selling tobacco products in its stores. In the past week, this ad has been running on Ithaca radio stations. 

    On the Tobacco Free New York website, we see communications for other campaigns since 2010:

    Discussion Starters:

    • Take a look at the video about how tobacco companies sponsor community events. Do you consider their approach ethical? Use the ethical decision-making guidelines in Chapter 1 to formulate your argument.
    • The ad, above, mentions that some drugstores have stopped selling tobacco products, but it doesn't name CVS. Why?
    • What's the punctuation error in "Tobacco Free New York"? Is this a good choice for the organization's name?
  • Malaysia Prime Minister's News Conference About Missing Flight

    The prime minister of Malaysia spoke about missing flight MH370 at a news conference. He begins by showing respect for the families, which is appropriate, and then provides what little information he knows. Most of the conference focuses on the search process.

    His English is difficult to understand, but couldn't someone do a better job of captioning his speech on YouTube? Surely, he had a script that could be shared with the press and other organizations. Are these "Automatic Captions" worth posting?

     

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess the prime minister's news conference. What works well about the content, organization, and delivery, and what could be improved?
    • What are the main messages you take away from his presentation?
  • Mary Barra's Video Message to GM Employees

    As communication experts question GM's "no comment" strategy with the press, CEO Mary Barra continues her communication with employees. In a four-minute video, Barra addresses what a New York Times article calls "a decade-long failure to fix a defect tied to 12 deaths."

    While people and companies are increasingly criticized for false apologies, Barra tries to go beyond a simple apology: "We have apologized, but that is only one step in the journey to resolve this." Of course, the company has little choice considering the federal investigations; it must take more action.

    The video complements an intranet post for employees on March 4 that outlined GM's investigation plans and expressed confidence in the future.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Barra's video. What works well, and what could be improved in the organization, content, and delivery?
    • What key messages do you take from the video? How do they compare to Barra's message to employees on March 4?
    • Why is Barra choosing employee messages as her primary communication vehicle? She has declined interviews with the press. On the other hand, the video is public on GM's website and YouTube. What's her strategy?
  • A Handwritten Job Ad

    Advertising agency Solve has a new—and old—way of inviting interns to apply for jobs. In a handwritten letter posted around college campuses, Solve asks interns to submit a traditional cover letter and resume by mail. Emphasizing "genuine connections" and a "personal, straightforward" approach, the agency describes its rationale:

    "Valuing substance over silliness, Solve refuses to ask candidates to condense resumes into 140 characters, present themselves via fake campaign or funny videos, or answer irrelevant nonsensical questions. Rather, Solve is simply asking for a resume and cover letter…to be sent (via mail) to the agency."

    Solve 2

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of the agency's campaign: refreshing, as gimmicky as a tweet, or something else?
    • I'm having trouble reading the letter. Is it just me?
    • The letter asks prospective interns to mail in their cover letter and resume. Would you submit something typed or handwritten?
    • The letter has a fairly major grammatical error. Can you find it?
  • Communications About GM's Ignition Trouble

    GM is in a tough spot, apparently having caused 31 accidents and 13 deaths and saying little about them.

    The Justice Department and Congress are investigating what sounds like a history of ignition problems that weren't fixed. The New York Times published a timeline, "The Deadly History of a Faulty Ignition Switch," showing accidents dating back to 2003.

    In addition to the criminal investigation led by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced its investigation plans:

    • Letter to GM CEO Mary Barra
    • Letter to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA)

    Both letters mention a bunch of documentation to be submitted by March 25:

    GM letter

    Meanwhile, Barra is keeping GM employees updated. On March 4, she posted this message on GM's intranet:

    Dear GM Employee:

    As employees of General Motors, many of us have been asked about our recently announced recall.  I would like to make sure you know where we stand and what we are doing about it.

    First and foremost, everything we are doing is guided by one unwavering principle:  do what is best for our customer.  Customer safety and satisfaction are at the heart of every decision we make.

    Our process for determining whether and when to recall a vehicle is decided by experienced technical experts. They do their work independent of managers with responsibilities for other aspects of the business, so that their decisions are made solely on technical facts and engineering analysis.

    When this was brought to my team a few weeks ago, we acted without hesitation to go well beyond the decision by the technical experts.  Specifically, we:

    • Created a working group of senior executives, which I lead, to direct our response, monitor our progress and make adjustments as necessary.
    • Empowered our dealers with resources to provide affected customers with the peace of mind they deserve.
    • Coordinated with our supplier to ramp up development and validation of replacement parts to get them into the field as fast as possible.
    • Provided federal regulators with comprehensive information on this issue.
    • Launched an internal review to give us an unvarnished report on what happened. 

    We will hold ourselves accountable and improve our processes so our customers do not experience this again.

    We sincerely apologized to our customers and others who have a stake in GM’s success.

    Of course, recalls of this size and scope always take time to play out.  Various other parties will naturally be involved, and GM will cooperate fully.  You can expect additional developments in the near term.

    That has led some to ask if the recall of these out-of-production vehicles might affect our company’s reputation or sales of our current models.

    My answer is simple:  that’s not the issue. The vehicles we make today are the best in memory and I’m confident that they will do fine, on their own merits.  And our company’s reputation won’t be determined by the recall itself, but by how we address the problem going forward.

    What is important is taking great care of our customers and showing that it really is a new day at GM.

    While I deeply regret the circumstances that brought us to this point, I appreciate how today’s GM has responded so far.  We have much more work ahead of us and I’m confident we will do the right thing for our customers.

    Mary

    When GM publishes documents to answer the committee's request, particularly for points 8 and 9, customer and internal communications also will be interesting to read.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How can GM gather all of the required information? Which groups within GM do you think are involved in pulling this together?
    • Analyze the House Committee's letters. What differences and similarities do you notice? How are they organized? What's interesting (or not) about the tone and word choice?
    • Analyze Barra's communication to employees. How might you react if you were an employee? What works well about the message, and what could you improve?
  • Is Malaysia Airlines Doing Enough?

    It's been two days since a Malaysia Airlines flight with 227 passengers and 12 crew members has been lost, and relatives are angry. The flight is now assumed to have crashed, with some signs of wreckage. But the real fallout now is the airline's lack of communication.

    Quotations in a Reuters article show family members' distress:

    "There's no one from the company here; we can't find a single person. They've just shut us in this room and told us to wait."

    "We want someone to show their face. They haven't even given us the passenger list."

    "They're treating us worse than dogs."

    On its website, the company revealed its "dark site," a page that companies create in anticipation of a crisis. Oddly, the airline kept the name in the URL, shown here.

      Malaysia airlines dark site2

    The page gave information about what happened and what actions the airline is taking currently:

    Monday, March 10, 05:30 PM MYT +0800 Malaysia Airlines MH370 Flight Incident - 10th Media Statement

    The purpose of this statement is to update on emergency response activities at Malaysia Airlines.

    On notification of the incident the following steps have been taken:-

    The EOC:-

    1. Activation of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the early morning of 8 March 2014. The EOC is the central command and control facility responsible for carrying out emergency management functions at the strategic level during a disaster.

    2. In addition to the EOC, various departments of Malaysia Airlines are also addressing to all the different needs during this crisis.

    Family Management

    1. Malaysia Airlines is working closely with the government of China to expedite the issuance of passports for the families intending to travel to Malaysia, as well as with the immigration of Malaysia on the issuance of their visas into Malaysia.

    2. Malaysia Airlines is deploying an additional aircraft to bring the families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur on 11 March 2014.

    3. When the aircraft is located, a Response Coordination Centre (RCC) will be established within the vicinity to support the needs of the families. This has been communicated specifically to the families.

    4. Once the Response Coordination Centre is operational, we will provide transport and accommodation to the designated areas for the family members.

    5. Our oneworld partners have been engaged to help bring family members in other countries aside from China into Kuala Lumpur.

    Search and Rescue

    1. Malaysia Airlines has been actively cooperating with the search and rescue authorities coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA) and the Ministry of Transport

    2. DCA has confirmed that search and rescue teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand and the United States of America have come forward to assist. We are grateful for these efforts.

    We also want to address a few common queries from the media.

    We are receiving many queries about how the passengers with the stolen passports purchased their tickets. We are unable to comment on this matter as this is a security issue. We can however confirm that we have given all the flight details to the authorities for further investigation.

    We also confirm that we are making necessary arrangements for MH370 passengers' families from Beijing to travel to Kuala Lumpur. However, flight details of the families’ arrival are highly confidential. This is to protect the privacy and well-being of the families during this difficult time and to respect their space. Our position is not to reveal any information on the flight or movements of the families.

    Malaysia Airlines' primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support. The costs for these are all borne by Malaysia Airlines.

    All other Malaysia Airlines’ flights are as per schedule. The safety of our passengers and crew has always been and will continue to be of utmost importance to us.

    The airline continues to work with the authorities and we appreciate the help we are receiving from all local and international parties and agencies during this critical and difficult time.

    Malaysia Airlines reiterates that it will continue to be transparent in communicating with the general public via the media on all matters affecting MH370.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Malaysia Airlines' statement. What works well, and what could be improved?
    • What's missing from the statement that you might see in similar posts about a tragedy? What could account for this omission? Timing? Culture? Language? Something else?
  • Cornell President Announces Plans to Leave

    Skorton at press conferenceDSC04658Cornell President David Skorton will leave the university in July 2015 to become the secretary of the Smithsonian. In a Smithsonian announcement, Skorton gave this statement:

    "Becoming a part of the Smithsonian is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead an institution that is at the heart of the country’s cultural, artistic, historical and scientific life. I am honored by the Board of Regents’ decision. I look forward with great enthusiasm to partnering with the excellent staff and volunteers, and engaging with the Regents, Congress and the Smithsonian’s many friends, supporters and affiliates to further extend our reach. I am eager to work with the leaders of Washington’s art, science and cultural centers to emphasize the critical importance of these disciplines."

    Skorton's email to the Cornell community echoed his enthusiasm for the Smithsonian and focused on continuing his work with Cornell through the sesquicentennial.

    Dear Colleagues and Friends,

    This morning, Robin and I are in Washington, D.C. for the announcement that I will become the next Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution on July 1, 2015. The Smithsonian is one of our true national treasures, and I am honored to have the opportunity to help shape its cultural, artistic, historic, scientific and public engagement endeavors.

    Although the transition is in the news today, our work on behalf of Cornell is not done. I will continue all the duties and activities of my Cornell office through this and the next entire academic year, advancing the full array of university initiatives, celebrating our sesquicentennial and ensuring a successful transition to the next president.

    Robin will continue her work in the College of Veterinary Medicine on the Ithaca campus and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City through June 30, 2015, along with continuing her role as a Cornell ambassador for the sesquicentennial events yet to come.

    After we all celebrate Cornell’s sesquicentennial, we will carry with us the enduring spirit of Cornell and its remarkably talented community of scholars, students, staff and alumni with whom we have had the privilege to collaborate during these past eight years.

    From our very first Cornell Reunion in June 2006, a few weeks before we were officially on board, Robin and I were knit into the fabric of a remarkable community. We have learned so much as part of the Cornell family, from our periodic stays in Mary Donlon Hall during Orientation, to our day-to-day activities on the campuses, to our interactions with our wonderful alumni. We continue to cherish your support, guidance and friendship.

    We will be back in Ithaca this evening. We look forward to seeing and talking with many of you in person as our transition unfolds. We also look forward to seeing you at the many events being planned to celebrate Cornell’s sesquicentennial, beginning this fall.

    Warm regards,
    David

    --
    David J. Skorton
    President
    Cornell University 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Analyze President Skorton's message to the Cornell community. How do the organization, audience focus, and content work well, and what could be improved?
    • What differences, if any, do you notice in message and tone between Skorton's Smithsonian announcement and the email announcement?
  • No More @GSElevator Book Deal

    The publishing deal for @GSElevator tweets is off the table. With 652,000 followers, the author had garnered an impressive following by tweeting what could be said in the Goldman Sachs elevator. He never claimed that the tweets were actually said—or that he worked for Goldman. When the book deal was first announced, it was unclear whether either mattered to Touchstone, a division of Simon and Schuster. But now that John LeFevre's identify has been revealed, the offer has been withdrawn.

    GSElevator

    According to a Business Insider article, the decision surprised LeFevre:

    "It's just a comical mystery to me. As of Friday afternoon, after all of the noise — during which Simon & Schuster prohibited me from responding and defending myself — they have continued to support me and stand by our project. Well, until today apparently."

    Simon and Schuster gave this statement:

    "In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre's STRAIGHT TO HELL, Touchstone has decided to cancel its publication of this work."

    LeFevre also wrote a piece in Business Insider explaining the history of @GSElevator and defending himself. Here are a few excerpts, and you can read the full version here:

    "For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overhead in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot.

    "Newsflash: GSElevator has never been about elevators. And, it's never been specifically about Goldman Sachs; it's about illuminating Wall Street culture in a fun and entertaining way. Without highlighting the obvious evolution of the tweets into more generally-appealing observations, let’s start with the simple fact that each of my tweets says 'Sent from Twitter for Mac,' hardly the work of someone pretending to be hiding in the walls of 200 West.

    "Being called a 'fake' or a 'hoax' by the same people who embraced me as 'satire' is simply laughable – and it really speaks to the silly and opportunistic attempts at cheap headlines.

    "I have been completely transparent in saying that my tweets are edited, curated, and crafted, in a way that I think will best resonate and still embody the soul and mentality of Wall Street. My focus has been to entertain and enlighten, without being completely devoid of substance and insight."

    Discussion Starters:
    • Why do you think Touchstone withdrew the book deal? Do you think this was the right decision?
    • Read LeFevre's response. Which parts do you find most and least convincing to convey his perspective? 
  • Meetup Communicates About Outage

    Meetup's website was down for a while, frustrating users. CEO Scott Heiferman communicated well during the outage with two emails. In both, he emphasizes that user information was not compromised—a likely question that users might have.

     
    Meetup    
     
     

    Meetup Organizers around the world,

    You may have had trouble accessing Meetup’s site or apps over the past few days, and you may have heard that Meetup has suffered a massive attack on our servers — a DDoS attack, which is a barrage of traffic intended to make services unavailable. Organizer and member data is secure, including credit card information. No data has been accessed or stolen. (See our blog for all the details on the attack and our response.)

    This has been a tough few days for Meetup, and I know it’s been a real struggle for many of you to manage your Meetups while our site and apps were down. You should know that we’re listening to your questions and concerns and that you can count on meetup to be stable and reliable soon, to bring back all features, and to minimize the effects of the service outages.

    Thanks for everything you do to create community,

    Scott Heiferman,
    Co-Founder
    and CEO, Meetup

     
    Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our blog for continuous updates.

    Meetup Inc., POB 4668 #37895
    New York, NY, USA 10163

     

    Hello Meetup Members,

    You may have had trouble accessing Meetup in the past week, and you may have heard that we were hit by a massive attack on our servers — a DDoS attack, which is a barrage of traffic intended to make services unavailable.

    I'm happy to report that Meetup is up and running! And no personal data was accessed or stolen. (For more info, here are details on the attack and answers to your FAQs.)

    It was amazing to see how many people were rooting for Meetup. We're excited to see you discover what's going on, find your people, and create community like never before.

    Here's what you may have missed:

    Upcoming Meetups

    Recommended Meetup Groups

    You can also download our iOS app or Android app for a super easy way to see local Meetups!

    Scott Heiferman,
    Co-Founder and CEO, Meetup

    Discussion Starters:

    • Analyze Heiferman's two emails: the organization, content, writing style, and mechanics. What works well, and what would you suggest he change?
    • Why might users worry about their personal information? Did Heiferman overstate the concern or address it well?
    • In both emails, Heiferman includes the difficulty this has caused Meetup as an organization. What do you think of his including the organization's perspective in this way? Does it enhance his
  • RadioShack Closes 1,100 Stores

    RadioShack is closing 1,100 stores, representing almost 20% of its total number.

    Blaming decreased traffic and weak cell phone sales, company executives presented the company's plan in a fourth quarter call for investors. (Access the call: (888) 286-8010, replay pass code 13147362.) On the call, CEO Joe Magnacca discusses reasons for declining sales and strategic plans. He also praises the company's successful Super Bowl's ad.

    In a news release, the company maintains a positive outlook, quoting Magnacca:

    "Even in this environment, we're continuing to make progress on the five pillars of our turnaround plan: repositioning the brand, revamping the product assortment, reinvigorating the stores, operational efficiency and financial flexibility."

    A video on the website, "Do It Together Campaign," promotes part of the company's new direction.

    In 2006, RadioShack was criticized for communicating layoffs in an email that read, "The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated." We have no word yet on these layoffs are communicated internally.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What are the key messages of RadioShack's four communications presented here: the ad, the DIT video, the press release, and the investor call?
    • What works well about the ad and DIT video, and what could be improved in each?
  • SeaWorld PR in Full Swing (Spin)

    BlackfishAt least one reporter thinks the SeaWorld PR machine should take a rest. SeaWorld took a big reputation hit when more than 21 million people watched Blackfish, a documentary claiming that orca whales suffer in captivity, in some cases causing injury and death to trainers who work at the park.

    Now, five months after the movie aired, SeaWorld submitted a complaint to the Labor Department, questioning the ethics of an investigator cited in the film. Calling the move "bizarre PR," Yahoo writer Jeff Macke said, "The complaint put SeaWorld and the documentary on the front page of the N.Y. Times business section; exactly where the company doesn’t want it to be."

    SeaWorld's strategy seems to be a continuation of its approach from last July, which a New York Times writer described:

    "SeaWorld, advised by the communications firm 42West, which is better known for promoting films than punching back at them, is taking the opposite approach. By midweek, the company was providing top executives and animal caretakers for interviews about the movie and its purported flaws.

    "It was also deliberating possible further moves, which might conceivably include informational advertising, a Web-based countercampaign or perhaps a request for some sort of access to CNN, which picked up television rights to 'Blackfish' through its CNN Films unit and plans to broadcast the movie on Oct. 24."

    On its website, SeaWorld writes the "Truth About Blackfish," which the company calls "propaganda, not a documentary":

    "We object to Blackfish because its two central premises are wrong: (1) that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and (2) that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

    "To make these ultimately false and misleading points, the film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally, and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create 'facts' that support its point of view." (continue reading)

    The post then describes several areas the company considers false or misleading.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view? Do you agree with the Yahoo writer's assessment of SeaWorld's PR approach?
    • Assess SeaWorld's criticism of the movie. Which are the strongest points, and which are the weakest? How, if at all, does this article affect your perception of Blackfish?
  • Error in "12 Years a Slave" Story

    NYT 12 YearsThe New York Times has just corrected an error in spelling the name of the man featured in the Academy Award winning movie 12 Years a Slave. The 1853 article about the free African American man who was sold into slavery spelled his name Solomon Northrop and, in the headline, Northrup, rather than the correct spelling, Northup.

    The New York Times correction acknowledges a tweet for pointing out the error:

    An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir '12 Years a Slave' became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as 'a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.')

    Rebecca Skloot's tweets revealed the error but also included a typo:

    Skloot tweets

    In a later tweet, Skloot admitted, "The irony, of course, is that I'm a terrible speller and proofreader."

    Discussion Starters:

    • How could an error like this happen? What technologies and processes may be in place today that might have caught the error before going to press?
    • Does it surprise you that the error was revealed in a tweet and that The New York Times didn't catch the mistake until 161 years later?
  • Viral Ad Winner: "Would You Help a Freezing Child?"

    A hidden camera filming people helping a freezing child in Oslo, Norway, topped the Viral Video Chart this week. The ad raises awareness of the suffering of Syrian children.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What makes these ads so compelling, particularly the one about people helping the freezing child?
    • Which on this list is your favorite?
  • Funny: Academic Gestures

    A "Glossary of Gestures for Critical Discussion" pokes fun at us academics, who merely try to spice up a lecture and keep students engaged. My favorite is the "Italian waiter: Use when making a cultural observation."

    The Italian Waiter. ‘I’ve been on holiday to the Mediterranean and I’m a bit looser with my gestures.’
Point hand towards your mouth, rock wrist back and forth. Incorporate more arm as you become more convinced by your own point. To engage larger audience, extend both arms outwards from body.
Use when making a cultural observation.

    If you're inclined, you can order rulers or coasters with the gestures.

    At least the gestures answer Will Farrell's question in the movie Talledega Nights: "What do I do with my hands?"

    Discussion Starters:

    • Watch you professors during the next class: how many can you identify?
    • What other gestures do your professors use?
    • Do you notice a difference in how business and other faculty use gestures?