• More Hijacked Hashtags

    Sure, social media is all about engaging your audience, but companies might stop trying to do so with Twitter hashtags. Two more companies' campaigns fell prey to hijacking: SeaWorld (again) and Mall of America.

    Ask SeaWorldIn yet another attempt to improve its image, SeaWorld started #AskSeaWorld. Maybe the company should have known better: the promotional tweet, "Love #dolphins?" turned into an opportunity for people to bash SeaWorld's treatment of orca whales. 

    #AskSeaWorld also created a chance for people and organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to criticize the company. Slate called the campaign "a terrible idea":

    "Let’s be honest: This is all a very bad idea. The 'haters gonna hate strategy' is never particularly effective when you’re a brand under fire, and while puppies might help, weird GIFs don’t do much for the cause. So maybe SeaWorld’s social and PR folks just really have no idea what they’re doing. Even so, you’d think they’d have learned from the corporate failures before them. Twitter Q&As are a terrible idea. A well-meaning hashtag gives critics an easy way to assemble and voice their complaints in a public forum. Why companies still try them is a great mystery. Maybe they’ll all finally learn from SeaWorld and give this one horrible PR trick up for good." 

    Also this week, Mall of America in Minnesota started #It'sMyMall for people to post "moments and memories" about their experiences. But the group Black Lives Matter overtook the hashtag to recount a protest on December 20 when police charged people with trespassing.  


    Discussion Starters: 

    • Do you agree with Slate's summary of social and PR staff at SeaWorld? 
    • When, if ever, should companies use a Twitter hashtag? What are the risks to consider? 
  • New SAE Statement

    The national fraternity of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has issued a new statement about the racist chant caught on video at the University of Oklahoma.

    At first, the national organization denied any connection: "...the national fraternity does not teach such a racist, hateful chant, and this chant is not part of any education or training." But an Oklahoma university report identified the source: 

    "It was learned by chapter members on a national leadership cruise sponsored by the national organization of Sigma Alpha Epsilon,” the university said in a brief report on the results of its inquiry into the episode. “Over time, the chant was formalized in the local S.A.E. chapter and was taught to pledges as part of the formal and informal pledgeship process."

    In a new statement, SAE accepts the university's conclusion and promises its own investigation. 


    Fraternity Confirms Chant was Shared at Past Leadership Meeting

    EVANSTON, IL – The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (SAE) on Friday confirmed members of its former University of Oklahoma chapter likely learned a racist chant while attending a national Leadership School about four years ago.

    However, Executive Director Blaine Ayers said the organization has no current evidence that the chant is widespread across the fraternity’s 237 groups. Ayers said SAE continues its in-depth investigation of its chapters.

    “We remain committed to identifying and rooting out racist behavior from SAE, and we are actively investigating all of our local organizations to determine whether there are issues in any other location,” Ayers said. “We intend to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and this will take time. However, we will share the results of our investigation when it is complete. Our current findings at the University of Oklahoma are similar to those announced on Friday by University of Oklahoma President David Boren. But our investigation to date shows no evidence the song was widely shared across the broader organization.”

    Ayers said he contacted Boren on Friday to acknowledge the university’s investigation and to assure Boren that Sigma Alpha Epsilon is continuing its own investigation.

    SAE invites hundreds of leaders annually to a six-day leadership retreat, where participants attend classes, seminars and other educational functions throughout the day and evening. While attendees have little social time, there are occasions when participants can gather socially.

    Ayers said it is likely that during one of these social gatherings, some members shared the racist song that was recorded on video at the University of Oklahoma and shared through social media earlier this month.

    SAE closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter immediately after seeing the video and subsequently announced a four-point initiative – including an anonymous hotline, mandatory online sensitivity training, the hiring of a diversity-and-inclusion officer and the appointment of a national advisory panel on diversity and inclusion – to eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination from the fraternity.

    SAE WP“The song is horrific and does not at all reflect our values as an organization,” said Ayers. “If we find any other examples of this kind of behavior currently occurring, we will hold our members accountable, just as we’ve done in Oklahoma.”

    On its Facebook page, SAE posted a picture and link to a Washington Post article about a diverse chapter at Midwestern State University. The fraternity also gave a news conference about its diversity initiatives. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess the tone, organization, and content of SAE's statement. 
    • Do you believe the national organization's claim that the chant isn't widespread? 
    • What's your view of the Washington Post article? How is it helpful and harmful to SAE's image? 
  • Germanwings' Communications About Flight Crash

    A New York Times article, although still controversial, surmised the cause of the Germanwings flight crash over the French alps. Black box communications indicate that the plane co-pilot barricaded himself into the cockpit to intentionally destroy the plane.

    Updates on the Germanwings website have been steady since the crash was reported, with the most recent statement acknowledging reports of the co-pilot's intention.

      Germanwings statement

    The home page of the website focuses on the incident. Simple text and no graphics appropriately reflect the severity of the situation.


    In a news conference, a French investigator concludes that the co-pilot is to blame. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess messages from Germanwings. What works well about their statements, and what could be improved?
    • The search continues for a second black box. What else, if anything, should the airline communicate at this point?
  • Announcing the Kraft Heinz Company

    Kraft HeinzH.J. Heinz and Kraft Foods Group will combine into one big company. A press release describes the merger agreement:

    PITTSBURGH and NORTHFIELD, Ill., March 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- H.J. Heinz Company and Kraft Foods Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: KRFT) today announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement to create The Kraft Heinz Company, forming the third largest food and beverage company in North America with an unparalleled portfolio of iconic brands.

    Under the terms of the agreement, which has been unanimously approved by both Heinz and Kraft's Boards of Directors, Kraft shareholders will own a 49% stake in the combined company, and current Heinz shareholders will own 51% on a fully diluted basis. Kraft shareholders will receive stock in the combined company and a special cash dividend of $16.50 per share. The aggregate special dividend payment of approximately $10 billion is being fully funded by an equity contribution by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital.

    The proposed merger creates substantial value for Kraft shareholders. The special cash dividend payment represents 27% of Kraft's closing price as of March 24, 2015. Also, by continuing to own shares of the new combined company, Kraft shareholders will have the opportunity to participate in the new company's long-term value creation potential.

    A Reuters article explains the value of combining the companies: "Food industry experts see Kraft benefiting from Heinz's international presence, which generates more than 60 percent of its sales." The new company will address "sluggish demand" by offering more "organic or less processed" foods.

    A Wall Street Journal article describes the cost-cutting plans, including losing "hundreds of management jobs."

    The move will put several powerful brands under one umbrella. Of course, the jokes have started, such as the Facebook page, "Putting ketchup on your Mac and Cheese."

    Source image.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read the press release. How would you describe the key messages?
    • What differences do you notice among the press release, Reuters article, and Wall Street Journal article? In other words, how do the companies' messages differ from what the press is reporting about the merger?
  • Starbucks Abandons "Race Together" Initiative

    Starbucks Race TogetherAfter heated criticism, Starbucks will end the company's attempt to discuss race at its stores. As part of the initiative, baristas were encouraged to write "Race Together" on customers' cups. 

    People didn't react well, pointing to the company's lack of diversity in its own management team and questioning the authenticity of the initiative.

       SB race

    Comments were so harsh that Starbucks' head of communications deleted his Twitter page, which caused another round of criticism. 

    In a letter to Starbucks partners, Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz wrote,

    "This phase of the effort -- writing "Race Together" (or placing stickers) on cups, which was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer term conversation -- will be completed as originally planned today, March 22."  

    However, according to a New York Times article, the date hadn't been announced before now. 

    Schultz also wrote, 

    "While there has been criticism of the initiative -- and I know this hasn't been easy for any of you -- let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise. The heart of Race Together has always been about humanity: the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few.  We leaned in because we believed that starting this dialogue is what matters most.  We are learning a lot. And will always aim high in our efforts to make a difference on the issues that matter most."  

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the initial campaign?
    • Read Schultz's statement. Does it sound sincere?
    • Was ending the campaign the right decision?
  • Sugarloaf Ski Lift Accident

    Seven people were injured on a ski lift at Sugarloaf in Maine. The company has been providing updates on its website

    Sugarloaf Media Room

    The third update revises the number of injured to seven, explains what a "rollback" is (when the chair lift goes backwards), describes the mechanics of the lift, and of course, expresses primary concern for the guests, 204 of whom were evacuated: 

    "Our first concern is with the guests who were injured and all of those who were impacted by the incident at the resort today," Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said. "Our staff is working with the Tramway Board on a thorough investigation, and we are committed to understanding the full cause of today's incident."  

    On Twitter, the company posted only the tweet: 

    Sugarloaf tweet
    Discussion Starters: 

    • Read Sugarloaf's original media release and latest update. I find the tone a bit "boilerplate" and flat. Do you agree? 
    • What else, if anything, should Sugarloaf post on social media sites? 
  • Fraternity's Facebook Posts Cause Suspension

    Penn-state-fraternityPenn State fraternity Kappa Delta Rho has been suspended and may face criminal charges because of Facebook photos. The images, posted to two "secret" pages, showed women who are nude, unconscious, or in other compromised states. Other photos revealed drug sales and hazing.

    A cease-and-desist letter from the university's Interfraternity Council explains the decision:

    "This action is being taken in response to the chapter hosting two private Facebook pages where highly inappropriate photographs were posted of activities, events, and comments that are in direct violation of the standards and values of a recognized student organization and/or fraternity at Penn State University. The State College Police have shared copies of photographs and communication that were posted on these Facebook pages with the Office of Student Conduct, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the Interfraternity Council."

    A statement from the university similarly condemns the action and explains the investigation.  

    A New York Times article portrays student sentiment: "Students on this campus of about 47,000 were dismayed but unsurprised by the episode."

    The incident brings new questions about how the University handles sex crimes. In 2011, football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested for abusing boys while school officials, including famed coach Joe Paterno, kept silent.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Consider Facebook's "Community Standards," updated just this week. Which are violated by the fraternity? 
    • Assess the University's and Interfraternity Council's statements. Consider the main points, tone, organization, and so on. 
    • Do you find the Sandusky situation relevant? Why or why not?
  • American Airlines Refuses Refund for Parents of Deceased Child

    American AirWhen a family tragically lost their nine-year-old daughter, they wanted to cash in their American Airline tickets for the vacation they had planned. But the airline refused.

    The Cantrells' trip was just five months after Madison "Scout" died from an asthma attack. Her 13-year-old sister, Katie, didn't want to travel to their annual beach destination because it would be too painful. They requested a refund through the Airlines' online system and received a denial letter:

    "After reviewing the documentation submitted, it has been determined the request does not meet our exception requirements. The ticket purchased is non-refundable so we cannot offer a refund, issue a travel voucher, or transfer this ticket to another person. The ticket will remain valid in our system for one year from the original date of issue, at which time it will expire and all value will be lost. [...] As a one-time courtesy, authorization was documented in your reservation to waive the change fee assessed when a non-refundable ticket is changed. [...] Your new ticket will be subject to any additional collection, if necessary, as governed by the applicable fares and fare rules in effect at that time."

    The "Gulliver Business Travel" section of the Economist explains what happened next:

    "By now, Gulliver readers will be able to predict with weary certainty what happened next. Which makes it all the more incredible that American failed to spot the inevitable chain of events that would follow. The mother posted the letter on Facebook, social media poured opprobrium on the airline for its heartlessness, and the carrier swiftly backtracked. As soon it started to feel the heat, American announced that it had apologised and would refund the Cantrells. But not before its reputation, such as it is, had already taken a shoeing."

    According to The Consumerist, the decision is inconsistent with the airline's own policy:

    "Nonrefundable tickets generally cannot be refunded. However, exceptions may be available under the following circumstances: Death of the passenger, immediate family member, or travelling companion."

    Eventually, American Airlines came around:

    "We extend our deepest sympathies to the Cantrell family on the loss of their daughter. We fully refunded [her] ticket last night and apologized to [the family] for not doing so immediately when she first contacted us."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How do you think the original decision to deny the refund happened, particularly if it's inconsistent with the airlines' own policy? 
    • The Cantrell family say they heard about the refund from news sources before they were informed by the airline. Why do you think American would handle the decision in this way? Was it the right move?
    • Assess the airlines' apology statement. Should the company say more, or does this suffice?
  • PowerPoint Karaoke

    PPT kA Wall Street Journal article described several PowerPoint shows that challenge performers to incorporate PPT images into an impromptu presentation. Called "PowerPoint karaoke" or "battle decks," the fun happens at Twitter, Wal-Mart stores, Abode, Zynga, and other companies.

    At Adobe, an employee is given a topic, such as whales, 30 seconds before she gets up to speak for nine minutes. While speaking, she and the audience see random photos, such as bare-chested men, which she tries to incorporate into the presentation. 

    Sammy Wegent started a company called "Speechless" to host similar PowerPoint events. Employees from Google, Adobe, and Airbnb have competed. The improv events provide levity to office workers who often have a love-hate relationship with the software.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • In some respects, these presentations having nothing to do with PowerPoint. Do you see my perspective? 
    • These events are just for fun, but what skills could employees build by participating? 
    • Can you imagine yourself participating in one of these events? What would be easy for you, and what would be challenging?
  • Facebook's Community Standards

    Facebook provided more detailed "Community Standards," which include the social network's approach to government requests. Requests for data and to restrict content were up to 35,051 in 2014.

    The new guidelines specify what's acceptable and unacceptable in four categories:

    • Keeping you safe (e.g., self-injury, bullying and harassment)
    • Encouraging respectful behavior (e.g., nudity, hate speech)
    • Keeping your account and personal information secure (e.g., authentic identity, fraud and spam)
    • Protecting your intellectual property.

    In a video, Facebook explains the new Standards:

    The Community Standards are particularly relevant this week, as a Penn State fraternity was suspended for having photos of nude women and other offensive images on "secret" Facebook pages.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What is the purpose of the Community Standards? Identify three or four specific communication objectives. Consider all of Facebook's many constituencies. 
    • Which of the Standards do you find most and least clear? 
    • Assess the video above. What's your view of the content and graphics?
  • Cancer PSA Shows Lumps in the Road

    Cancer Research UK created a clever public service announcement to show how people ignore potentially cancerous lumps on their bodies. The group hired creative effects company Artem to design and build the lumps, which they managed in just three weeks.  

    The video shows people on a busy street walking around and ignoring a lump as it grows in the sidewalk. At the end, we see the text, "It's easy to ignore something, especially when we're busy. But spotting cancer sooner could save your life."

    Artem's portfolio shows the company's creativity and diverse work. After 12 days, the YouTube video shows about 90,500 views.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How would you measure the success of this campaign? What metrics would be appropriate? Consider the costs as well as the benefits. 
    • What's your view of the PSA? In what ways do you find it effective and ineffective?
  • Apple Apologizes for Outage

    Apple has apologized for a major outage that lasted several hours. Users couldn't access iTunes or the App Store from 5 a.m. and during most of the day. Outages were reported in the United States, U.K., Switzerland, and Spain. 

    Apple issued this statement to CNBC

    "We apologize to our customers experiencing problems with iTunes and other services this morning. The cause was an internal DNS error at Apple. We're working to make all of the services available to customers as soon as possible, and we thank everyone for their patience."

    As of 5:27 p.m., Apple's service status page showed all systems operating normally. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess Apple's apology considering principles from Chapters 1 and 5 about slang, jargon, and so on. 
    • Initially, people thought the problem was caused by a server outage. How would this, if at all, have affected Apple's statement? 
  • Oklahoma Students Expelled for Racist Chant

    Students at the University of Oklahoma are paying the price for participating in a racist chant caught on video. Two students at Sigma Alpha Epsilon were expelled for "creating a hostile educational environment for others," and the university chapter was closed. (Read letter to students.)

    Students seem to be chanting the following:

    There will never be a n** at SAE
    There will never be a n** at SAE
    You can hang him from a tree
    But he’ll never sign with me
    There will never be a n** at SAE

    Another video shows the chapter's house mother using the "N-word" repeatedly.

    The national chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon issued a statement, including the following:

    "In separate statements, the two men who have been expelled from the university have mentioned that the song was 'taught to us.' However, as has been maintained in previous statements, the national fraternity does not teach such a racist, hateful chant, and this chant is not part of any education or training. Our investigation has found very likely that the men learned the song from fellow chapter members, which reiterates why Sigma Alpha Epsilon did not hesitate to close the chapter completely because of the culture that may have been fostered in the group."

    The incident raises issues of "serious lack of mature oversight," according to a lawyer on another case against the fraternity. In 2011, a Cornell University African-American sophomore died following a hazing ritual at SAE. George Desdunes was blindfolded and tied up. He died of alcohol poisoning. Although the fraternity was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, there were other charges, and the case is being pursued in civil court.

    Attorney Douglas Fierberg said,

    "By allowing teenagers to make these decisions independent of adult guidance, you can end up with a chapter gone far awry with things like this, even injury and death. Many of these chapters insist on self-management. But it's that very thing that makes them far more riskier than any other organization in the entire nation."

    Discussion Starters:

    • One SAE student and the parents of another wrote apologies. What else, if anything, should be done at this point?
    • A writer for the The Washington Post said the expulsions are unconstitutional, based on the First Amendment. Read the article and discuss your perspective.
  • Hillary Clinton Discusses Personal Email Situation

    At a news conference, Hillary Clinton describes how she used her personal email account while she was Secretary of State, a position she left two years ago. Clinton says she used one account (one device) for all emails for "convenience."

    Her view is that work-related emails were sent to .gov accounts, so they are saved. For others, she says she followed the federal guidelines that "for any government employee, it is that employee's responsibility to determine what's personal and what's work related."

    Full news conference.

    Clinton says she regrets not using two separate devices but is glad that her personal email will become public. She sounds confident that no wrongdoing will be uncovered. According to The New York Times, about 30,500 personal emails have been given to the State Department in December, but another 32,000 have been deleted.

    The Times article also questioned her explanation of wanting to carry just one device:

    "Mrs. Clinton’s explanation that it was more convenient to carry only one device seemed at odds with her remark last month, at a technology conference in Silicon Valley, that she uses multiple devices, including two kinds of iPads, an iPhone and a BlackBerry. She said then: 'I don’t throw anything away. I’m like two steps short of a hoarder.'"

    Discussion Starters:

    • How do you think this controversy might affect Clinton's pending candidacy for president?
    • What's your view of The Times' criticism of her carrying just one device, although she says she doesn't throw old devices away. Is this the same thing?
  • "Creepy Methods" and More in Emails

    HillaryclintonprphilippereinesHillary Clinton's emails are becoming public as are emails about other personal accounts potentially used for official State Department business. In a series of emails, we see Clinton's aide, Philippe Reines, show his anger, including this "Note" at the end of a message to Gawker:

    "(NOTE: How about you, me and lying liar source take a trip to the polygraph store. The three of us strap in and we let the needle decide. Loser pays and issues a public apology. I don't need to know their identity until they lose.)"

    The email stream started with a question from a reporter to Reines:

    From: CJ Ciaramella
    Date: Tue, 3 Mar 2015 18:47:10
    To: Philippe Reines
    Subject: Comment on private email address at State Dept

    Hi Philippe,

    This is CJ Ciaramella, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon and Vice. Wondering if you have any response to this Gawker article alleging that you and Huma Abedin used private email addresses to conduct official government business while at the State Dept:


    As I’m sure you well know, not archiving official business conducted on a private email address is a violation of the Federal Records Act. A FOIA request for your State Dept. emails is also currently being appealed. Please email or call: [redacted]

    CJ Ciaramella

    Here are more quotations from Reines' emails:

    • Did you attempt to verify your source's assertion of my use of such an email using the same creepy methods you did with my close friend and colleague Huma Abedin? Assuming you did, why doesn’t your piece note the results of your creepy methods?
    • If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?
    • Cockamamie Theory: Is it your belief that I orchestrated this from private life months after leaving my job at State? If yes, is it your belief that my long reach would rig something as implausibly stupid as the reply you got? That's just insulting. I mean, it put me in a worse light than if they had just ignored you.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read all of the emails (if you have the time!). How is Reines both hurting and helping Clinton?
    • To what extent should this email exchange reflect on Clinton personally and professionally?
  • McDonald's Limits Antibiotic Use in Chickens

    8-MCDONALDS-blog427Until now, McDonald's approach has been, yes, to offer some healthier menu items, but more so, to promote their current food. John Oliver poked fun at the company's ad campaign, "Our Food, Your Questions":

    "There's something a little suspicious about the way that they're celebrating the fact that their food is made out of food."  

    This week, McDonald's is taking real action: limiting the antibiotics that are used in chickens. Steve Easterbrook just took over as CEO on March 1 after a 12-year history with McDonald's in the U.K. According to The New York Times, this is Easterbrook's "first major act": 

    "Mr. Easterbrook’s first major act as C.E.O. was to announce that within two years all the chicken served at its restaurants would be free of antibiotics, or at least those antibiotics also used in humans. It was a big move for McDonald’s, which is one of the biggest buyers of chicken, and one that pleased health officials who see overuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry — and the resulting antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria — as a serious threat to human health."

    The company hopes Easterbrook will turn around failing McDonald's restaurants throughout the world as he did in the U.K. This Business Insider chart of same-store sales shows that the company has work to do.

    McD same store sales

     Image source. Chart source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess McDonald's announcement about antibiotics. What effect do you think this will have on suppliers, consumers, and investors? 
    • Easterbook declined comment for The New York Times article. Why would he decline, and is this a good move?
    • What other communications or actions should the company take to restore the image and increase revenue?
  • Warren Buffett's Letters

    Warren Buffett AnnotatedReuters, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post covered Warren Buffett's most recent letter to shareholders. The Journal's fascination is evident in its annotated version of the letter and its description of the excitement: 

    "Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, released Saturday, is always pored over for investing smarts, hints at who might succeed him, and folksy wisdom about life and business.

    "This year’s 50th-anniversary edition didn’t disappoint. It offered readers a breezy and informative waltz through the history of conglomerates, and aphorisms such as “never underestimate the man who overestimates himself.” It even included advice to get the giant root beer float for dessert at Piccolo’s, if you happen to be in Omaha for the annual meeting that marks Buffett’s 50th year at the helm. ('Only sissies get the small one,' he wrote.)"

    The Journal also summarized a few leadership lessons from the letter, including these:

    • Admit your mistakes and stay humble.
    • Shower people who work for you with praise.
    • Character is crucial. 

    Buffett's previous annual letters are logged on Berkshire Hathaway's website.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Explain the fascination with Buffett's letters. 
    • Read the latest or an older letter. Describe the tone, messages, and organization. What are the communication objectives? Did Buffett achieve them? 
  • No More Elephants at the Circus

    Ringling ElephantRingling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey won't include elephants in their circus performances after 2018. The company announced a plan to phase out its 43 animals, some say because of pressure from consumer and animal rights groups, while others point to the increasing costs of maintaining each elephant: $65,000 per year. 

    Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said, "These are complex, intelligent animals, and this is a lousy, lousy, dirty, cruel business, and people see that. This was purely a business decision." 

     A press release on the company's website says that the elephants will join other animals at the Elephant Conservation Center

    "The Feld Family, owners of Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, announced plans today to remove Asian elephants from their traveling circus performances. Under the plan, 13 elephants currently traveling with the three Ringling Bros. circus units will be relocated to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant for Conservation® in Florida by 2018. There they will join the rest of the Ringling Bros. herd of more than 40 elephants."

    Later in the release, the company mentions "changing consumer preferences": 

    "'Our family has been the proud steward of the American institution that is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and our elephants, for 45 years. It is a legacy that we hold near and dear to our hearts, and as producers of The Greatest Show On Earth, we feel we have a responsibility to preserve the esteemed traditions that everyone expects from a Ringling Bros. performance while striving to keep the show fresh and contemporary for today’s families,' said Nicole Feld and Alana Feld, Ringling Bros. producers and Executive Vice Presidents with Feld Entertainment. 'As the circus evolves, we can maintain our focus on elephant conservation while allowing our business to continue to meet shifting consumer preferences,' they added."

    Image source

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How well does the company's press release explain the move? 
    • What do you think is the motivation behind the change? 
    • What can SeaWorld learn from the news?
  • Ferguson Emails Reveal Racist Attitudes

    Emails among Ferguson, MO, police officers and court officers reveal racial bias. In an investigation following the shooting of Michael Brown (and the grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who shot him), the Justice Department discovered offensive emails, six of which were published.

    One email, according to NPR, said that "President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because 'what black man holds a steady job for four years.'" Others compared the president to a chimpanzee and conveyed more stereotypes about African-Americans, Muslims, and people on welfare.

    According a the Justice Department's report, the emails reflect the culture of the police department and court system:

    "Ferguson's police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson's own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities."

    In a news conference, Ferguson Major James Knowles condemned the behavior and announced that two of the three employees who wrote the emails were terminated, and a third was placed on administrative leave. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess the mayor's news conference. How well does he assure the public that proper actions have been taken?
    • What other communications would you like to see, for example, from the police department or court system?
    • How do we get people to stop writing emails that they don't want discovered? 
  • Deceiving Hotel Photos

    Business Insider has gathered a bunch of deceiving hotel photos and compared them to real pictures taken on site. Some may be Photoshopped, while others may have been taken at creative angles with fancy lenses.

    This example shows the pool of the Los Angeles Sofitel. Is it Photoshopped, or is Macy's cut out of the picture by the angle? The Business Insider article show 17 comparisons.

    Hotel 1   Hotel 2
    Discussion Starters:

    • Some of these show the difference between a "staged" room and one ready for guests; others show different lighting and times of day. How much creativity do you find acceptable for photos posted on a hotel's website?
    • Where's the ethical line here? Which, if any, of these photos do you consider a breach of ethics? Use the ethical decision-making guidelines in Chapter 1 to support your view.
  • Twitter Adds Safety Features

    Twitter SafetyShortly after CEO Costolo promised to address cyberbullying on Twitter, the company has implemented new safety features to protect users.

    A new process allows users to report "abusive or harmful" tweets with a few easy clicks. In addition to this new reporting tool, Twitter announced the following accomplishments so far:

    • "...we now review five times as many user reports as we did previously, and we have tripled the size of the support team focused on handling abuse reports."
    • "...we’ve been able to significantly reduce the average response time to a fraction of what it was, and we see this number continuing to drop."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Twitter's announcement of the new safety features. What do you find most and least convincing?
    • How well will the new features address harassment and other bullying behavior on Twitter?
  • New Meanings of Punctuation

    Punctuation-marks-professional-translation-servicesA New York Times article discusses the interpretations and misinterpretations of punctuation marks. Of course, texting has raised new issues, and this isn't the first time the topic is of interest.

    Mashable published an article more than a year ago about the perplexities of marks in messages, particularly periods as aggression. Turns out, only 39% of college students use punctuation at the ends of texts (45% at the ends of instant messages). 

    The NY Times writer reminds us of the history of punctuation: 

    "The origins of punctuation lie in ancient oration, when marks were used in handwritten speeches to advise when and for how long a speaker should pause. A period was a part of speech that had a beginning and end, a comma indicated the shortest pause, while the colon was somewhere between the two.

    "But there are no pauses or inflections in digital communication; we aren’t speaking the words out loud. Which means that even within the tiniest spaces, punctuation fills in the tonal holes."

    She adds spaces before some marks, for example, "Can't wait !!" She believes this can "soften the marks themselves."  

    One editor says it well: "You could drive yourself insane trying to decode the hidden messages in other people’s punctuation." I'm sure many people do.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view about periods at the ends of text messages? 
    • Look at your most recent text messages. How are you using punctuation? Can any be misinterpreted? 
    • Can you remember a text that had confusing punctuation? Why did it confuse you? 
  • Getting Too Close

    John-travolta-idina-menzel-gettyNPR did a segment on physical closeness, a topic covered in Chapter 2 on intercultural communication. The inspiration was two recent incidents in the news:

    • At her husband's swearing in as secretary of defense, Stephanie Carter experienced Vice President Joe Biden's hands on her shoulders while he whispered into her ear. 
    • At the Oscars, John Travolta put a hand on Scarlett Johansson's waist, leaning in for a kiss. To make up for last year's embarrassment, Travolta was face to face with Idina Menzel, touching her chin. 

    We know that social distance is farther in the United States than in other countries. At 3 or 4 feet, we're seen as cold: "That's just frigid; that's like an icicle," according to one Cuban immigrant.

    While touching behaviors vary by culture, the NPR article speculates that coming up from behind someone, as Joe Biden did, is seldom  a good idea. 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Have you ever felt uncomfortable with someone's physical distance in a social setting? What were the circumstances? 
    • Have you ever noticed someone else backing away or trying to move closer to you in a work setting?
    • What's your view of touching at work?