• University of Cincinnati Shooting

    A University of Cincinnati campus police officer shot Samuel DuBose, whose car was pulled over for a missing license plate. A video taken from the officer's own body camera led people to consider the shooting "purposeful." A grand jury has indicted the officer for murder. If he is convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison.

    Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has been outspoken about the situation. 

    In a news conference, Deters, who is a University of Cincinnati graduate, criticizes the UC police force: 

    "I graduated from UC twice, it's a wonderful university, I love their president, but they're not cops. And we have a great police department in Cincinnati, probably the best in Ohio. And I talked to the chief about it today, and I said 'you guys should be doing this stuff.' And I think he's in agreement with it.

    "The university does a great job educating people, and they made a lawyer out of me, kinda, and that should be their job. Being police officers shouldn't be the role of this university. I don't think so. Now, they can interview these guys and I'm sure they have great cops in the university police department, but they should be held to the same standard, and if they were with the CPD, they would be held to the same standard in training CPD officers are. And I think it would be a good thing for the university."

    Deters also says, "I've been doing this for over 30 years. This is the most asinine act I've ever seen a police officer make. Totally unwarranted. It's an absolute tragedy in the year 2015 that anyone would behave in this manner. It was senseless, and I met with the family just moments ago. It's just horrible."

    Nothing appears on UC's website, including "News," which is prominent on its home page. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Should UC post something on its website? If so, what and where should it be placed?
    • Is Deters doing the right thing? What's the relationship between a city's and a university's police force?
  • Political Polls and Charts

    Ah, politics and polling. The media loves to report every data point, but now we have an example of a misleading poll. People have been surprised that Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate, hasn't taken more of a hit after his comment about Senator John McCain. Trump said, "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?"

    A New York Times article explains why Trump may still lead the Republican polls, although people are upset by the remark. One explanation is that poll reporting lags. We hear the results of polls days after they're taken. In the chart below, the article shows the results of Huffington Post and CNN polls as we saw them in the news, showing Trump's comments on July 18. 

    Trump poll 1

     This second chart shows the results of polls the date they were taken:

    Trump poll 2

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How much do you think poll matter during an elective? How, if at all, do they influence you? 
    • What can be done to ensure that polls don't mislead the public? Consider the roles and responsibilities of news agencies. 
  • "Gawker Grows Up"

    GawkerAfter big executive news last week, Gawker CEO Nick Denton wrote a long message to staff. Gawker's executive editor and the editor-in-chief of Gawker.com resigned after an article, which revealed that a high-ranking magazine executive was texting a gay escort, was removed from the site after a board vote. Denton explained the decision in a post, including, "The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family." 

    The executives' perspective, reflected partly in a message from Max Read (editor-in-chief) to Gawker writers, was about the faulty separation between editorial freedom and business (my paraphrase):

    "On Friday a post was deleted from Gawker over the strenuous objections of Tommy and myself, as well as the entire staff of executive editors. That this post was deleted at all is an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to 'radical transparency'; that non-editorial business executives were given a vote in the decision to remove it is an unacceptable and unprecedented breach of the editorial firewall, and turns Gawker’s claim to be the world’s largest independent media company into, essentially, a joke." 

    In his message to staff, CEO Denton discussed these issues and announced management team changes. Part of his post addressed controversy about the removed story: 

    "My professional life is committed to a free press and open discourse. While the reputation of our media brands remains a proper concern of the company, we do not and will not make story decisions based on advertiser feedback. Our credibility with both readers and advertisers depends on strong, incisive and independent journalism.

    "I will put the company on the line rather than cave to legal pressure from the subject of a story, no matter how powerful. I will preserve Gawker Media’s reputation for fighting press freedom cases that other media companies would settle.

    "In regards to the recent story about a media executive blackmailed by an escort, I’ve explained extensively I ordered this misjudged exposé removed because it was not in line with the editorial standards I believe Gawker.com should maintain. And yes, it was also damaging to the brand of Gawker.com and the reputation of the company that shares the same name."

    Denton ended his message, "Gawker grows up." 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Explain the executives' and the CEO's positions on the removed story in your own words.
    • How is this story relevant to business communicators? 
    • Assess Denton's message to staff. What works well, and what could be improved in the organization, tone, writing style, and so on?
  • Email Still Prevails

    New evidence shows the continued prevalence of email in the workplace. Its demise has been predicted over time, particularly with the increase of social media. But three examples this week tell us otherwise: 

    • Eighty-one percent of respondents in a Social Journalism Study by Cision prefer email for story pitches. Thirty percent preferred the phone, and 24% preferred social media. (Respondents could choose multiple methods.) 
    • A video, "Email in Real Life," is making the Internet rounds. "A Conference Call in Real Life" was popular a couple of months ago, and this video follows the same corporate humor. 

    Email in Real Life


    • Complaints about email persist. A TechCrunch article, "It's All Your Fault Email Is Broken," denies help from programs and instead blames us, the user. The author cites a GFI Software study, which found that 55% of people check email after 11 p.m., 59% check email on vacation, and 76% respond to emails within an hour. A New York Times article tells us to "Stop Checking Email So Often." 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • The GFI study asked people whether email is a blessing or a curse. Ninety-percent said it was a blessing. What do you think? How would you answer the other questions
    • How long will email persist in organizations? With so many other tools available, why has it been the default communication for so long?
  • Toshiba Resignations

    Toshiba has announced the resignation of the chief executive and seven other board members in the wake of an accounting scandal. An independent report found that the company had overstated earnings by $1.2 billion over seven years. 

    In a news conference, Chief Executive Hisao Tanaka said, "I apologize from my heart to all our stakeholders. To clarify management responsibility, I resign my posts as president and member of the board of directors as of today."

    Toshiba resignations

    In the Japanese culture, it is traditional to bow deeply, particularly when admitting wrongdoing. Tanaka also said, "The responsibility lies in the management, including myself. As a response, I am stepping down from the post as the CEO and president."

    The committee that issued the report found "systematic involvement, including by top management, with the goal of intentionally inflating the appearance of net profits." The committee also wrote, "Within Toshiba, there was a corporate culture in which one could not go against the wishes of superiors." 

    In a company statement, Toshiba promises changes as a result of the committee's findings, including disclosing the investigation report and correcting past financial statements. 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What differences do you see in Toshiba and Toyota's news conferences (in 2010) compared to American companies' public hearings, such as GM's? 
    • How much confidence do you have in Toshiba after hearing this news? What can the company do to rebuild the brand?
  • Users Get Duped by Hotel Booking Sites

    Hotel-website-scamLast week, I wrote about the false report that Bloomberg is acquiring Twitter. This week's news is about people believing they book a hotel online, but the reservation is through a fake site. 

    According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), 2.5 million bookings—$220 million—are going to rogue sites. Users who book through these sites may find that they don't have a reservation when they get to a hotel, they may be charged large fees, or they may get misinformation about rates or cancellation policies. 

    The Better Business Bureau suggests that people double check URLs, don't believe logos (which are easily copied), and avoid deals that are "too good to be true."

    An LA Times article reminds us to look for secure signs on a website when entering personal information such as a name for a reservation or a credit card number: "You'll know you are connected by https if you see a lock in the URL bar of your Web browser."

    Image source from the AH&LA. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What other advice would you have for people to assess whether a website is valid? Use the principles in Chapter 9 and your own ideas. 
    • Do you think a hotel has any responsibility for these rogue sites? Why or why not?
  • Reddit's CEO Change


    Reddit has been a spiral of drama in the past few weeks. Wired gives a useful chronology of the CEO changes and other issues. Ellen Pao was hired as interim CEO in November 2014 after Yishan Wong resigned. Pao had been in the news because she was a junior investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and sued the firm for gender discrimination. She lost the suit, which went to trial, in March 2015. 

    At Reddit, Pao was criticized for banning several subreddits (topical groups within Reddit). Although Reddit was created as a place for free speech, some of it is hateful. But users felts that Pao overstepped in closing down some sites. More than 200,000 people signed a change.org petition calling for Pao's resignation.

    In her resignation post, Pao thanked her supporters but focused on the trolls and hateful comments she had received. She asks people to consider others' humanity and writes, "So why am I leaving? Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining reddit’s core principles."

    According to Wired,

    Reddit is home to some of the most hateful content on the Internet, but at least some of it appears to be here to stay. Reddit [new] CEO Steve Huffman said during an AMA [ask me anything] on the site today that the company would ban communities that “incite harm or violence against an individual or group of people,” as well as any subreddit that “harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people.”

    But he did call out a specific racist subreddit by name—a name so offensive that we won’t repeat it here—as an example of the kind of content that would remain, though likely under a new classification—an assurance that brought cheers from the subreddit’s members.

    Wired also summarizes Pao's resignation:

    Some have decried Ellen Pao’s resignation from Reddit as a step in the wrong direction for an industry where women leaders are still a distinct minority, but the site’s detractors say good riddance. Though Reddit was originally intended as a place where the ideals of free speech and the wisdom of the crowd would reign, often the crowd turned into a mob.

    Discussion Starters:

    • People are so divided over Pao's resignation. What's your opinion? Was the decision best for the website? What are the consequences? 
    • How, if at all, does her Kleiner lawsuit factor into your opinion? What if she had won the case?
  • Scott Walker's Logo Controversy

    Presidential candidate Scott Walker revealed a new logo, but critics say it's too close to that of America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. 

    Walker logo

    The company has commented on the similarity, particularly to point out that it is not endorsing Scott Walker. According to NPR, CEO Reade Fahs also said Walker has probably seen the logo: "It's on hundreds of stores across the country. So assuming he's got good vision, he probably would have spotted it in his campaign travels. And we have lots of stores in Wisconsin too." Fahs said the controversy is "sure good for our business." He said, "Ever since the controversy erupted our online eye exam bookings have hit record levels." 

    A Walker spokesperson told NPR, "There are thousands and thousands of people who use the American flag as branding." She may be right, and logos are often called into question for similarities. Hillary Clinton was criticized for hers when she announced her campaign in April.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the similarity? Should the Walker campaign have known better?
    • What should Walker do at this point? Should the governor find a new logo?
  • People Duped by Twitter Story

    A fake story that Bloomberg is buying Twitter sent shares up 8.5% at one point. The news came from the website bloomberg.market—not the real bloomberg.com—with the title "Twitter attracts suitors." The report claimed Bloomberg would acquire Twitter for $31 billion.

    According to a Reuters article, experts say the "fake website and report did not require a high level of skill." Anyone can register a website. What's surprising is that people believed the news so readily. Former CEO Costolo's name was misspelled as Costelo in the article. 

    Twitter fake story

    Although Twitter and the SEC didn't comment on the story, Bloomberg Ty Trippet representative offered a brief statement: "The story was fake and appeared on a bogus website that was not affiliated with Bloomberg." 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What principles of evaluating sources from Chapter 9 would have helped readers assess the story? 
    • Should Twitter have made a statement about the story? Why or why not? If so, what should the company have said?
    • What are the ethical considerations in this story? Who got hurt? 
  • Microsoft's Latest Layoff Email

    SatyaNadellaMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella sent an email to employees announcing a major layoff—7,800 employees. This is in addition to the 18,000 employees laid off last year. 

    Satya's email breaks the news starting in the third paragraph: 

    "We anticipate that these changes, in addition to other headcount alignment changes, will result in the reduction of up to 7,800 positions globally, primarily in our phone business. We expect that the reductions will take place over the next several months.

    "I don’t take changes in plans like these lightly, given that they affect the lives of people who have made an impact at Microsoft. We are deeply committed to helping our team members through these transitions."

    Nadella goes on to describe changes in the company's phone, mapping, and advertising businesses. His email is considerably better than Stephen Elop's long, rambling message in 2014, which revealed the bad news in the 11th paragraph. 

    Still, U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions criticized Microsoft's layoffs:

    "Microsoft has just announced it is laying off another 7,800 workers, on top of the 18,000 layoffs it has already announced. This means Microsoft has shed roughly 1/5th of its workforce in the past couple years. And yet Microsoft, perhaps more than any other major U.S. company, has claimed it suffers from a shortage of American workers and must therefore import more H-1B foreign guest workers."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess Nadella's email. What works well, and what could be improved? Consider the audience and purpose when you analyze the tone, word choice, organization, and so on. 
    • What's your view of Senator Sessions' criticism. Is this fair given the current layoffs?
  • Subway Cuts Ties with Jared

    After more than 15 years as the Subway poster-child, Jared Fogle may have to find a new gig. The company has cut ties with Fogle after learning about an investigation related to child pornography.

    Fogle lost 245 pounds in 1999 and starred in his first Subway ad in January 2000 with the disclaimer, "The Subway diet, combined with a lot of walking, worked for Jared. We're not saying this is for everyone. You should check with your doctor before starting any diet program. But it worked for Jared." This started an advertising campaign to emphasize healthy food options at Subway.

    Of course, Fogle may be exonerated of any wrongdoing. A raid on Fogle's home was instigated by the arrest of a former executive director of Fogle's nonprofit organization, whose mission is to combat childhood obesity.

    Subway isn't taking any chances. In a statement, the company said, "Jared continues to cooperate with authorities and he expects no actions to be forthcoming. Both Jared and Subway agree that this was the appropriate step to take."

    Subway and Jared

    Discussion Starters:

    • Did Subway do the right thing? What if Jared is proved innocent? Could he have legal grounds to sue Subway?
    • Some believe it's time for Jared to go, anyway. What do you think, based on the company's performance, goals, and so on?
  • Fresh Twitter Fails

    It's been a while since someone has ventured into a Twitter hashtag and it backfired. This week, Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James and presidential hopeful Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal fell victim to snarky tweets.

    From her hashtag #AskELJames, James caught nasty questions about her writing style:

    • "Do you get paid per adjective?"
    • "Have you ever held a dictionary?"
    • "Did you ever consider using a thesaurus, or did that sound too much like hard work?"

    Governor Jindal tried the #AskBobby but got similar poor results. People questioned his record and his success as a governor.


    Discussion Starters:

    • Research a few successful hashtags. What is the difference between these and those that fail?
    • If you were running for office, would you try this approach? If so, how?
  • Deceptive Native Advertising and Other Issues

    After binge-listening to Serial, I'm hooked on StartUp, the show about a new podcast company, Gimlet Media. Episode 9 of Season 1 is an excellent example of crisis communication and some problems associated with advertising. 

    A podcast includes an ad of a nine-year-old boy describing how he uses a website. The boy and his mother weren't clear that the interview would be for an ad; instead, the proud mom thought her son would be interviewed for a "This American Life" radio show. In the episode, StartUp founder Alex Blumberg describes the mistake, which wasn't intentional but got a lot of social media attention.

    2015-06-30 11_31_19-» We Made A Mistake

    The story reminded me of a study recently published by Reuters Institute. According to the research, "More than a third of British and American readers of online news say they have felt 'disappointed or deceived' after reading an article that turned out to be paid for by an advertiser." This is the dilemma of native advertising, which the Reuters study describes as follows: 

    "Brand messages look more like regular content – sitting in the same templates and using the same formats that might be used for a standard piece of journalism or a user-generated post on social media."

    Although this isn't quite the same as the StartUp controversy, both methods of advertising need to be handled well. In the StartUp episode, Blumberg describes how careful the company is to let people know an advertisement is coming, so it's not mistaken for program content. Blumberg also explains the value of native advertising but is careful not to endorse products just because they're paid to do so. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your reaction to native advertising? Have you been duped? How did you feel?
    • What mistakes did the Gimlet team make in Episode 9?
    • What are the mother's responsibilities in the situation? What, if anything, could she have done differently?