Hawaiian Crisis Response and the End of Journalism as We Know It

22 Feb

By Jan Hutchins, CEO SocialAgenda Media

I answered the phone feeling great. I was in Hawaii, after all, and the previous call had been to inform me I’d just won election to the Los Gatos, California town council and received the most votes among the candidates. “Jan Hutchins here!” I eagerly answered, “How can I help you?”

“I’m with the (San Jose) Mercury News and we’re following up on a story,” said the voice on the other end, “Someone’s accusing you of being unpatriotic and against the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Thus began a weeklong adventure and education inside a media shit storm. Constant calls for comment, TV reporters waiting outside my home, an appearance on Ronn Owens’ highly rated KGO radio talk show, and pro-con attitudes in my face everywhere I went.

The facts hardly mattered.  I had given the pledge while speaking at a service club during the campaign and, when asked, said I substituted, ideals for flag in the opening phrase describing that I was “pledging my allegiance to the ideals (vs flag) of the United States of America”. It seemed like an obvious improvement to me since my allegiance is not to the piece of cloth but to the ideals it represents. Silly me.

Thank goodness for having enough wisdom not to try to change those who either didn’t understand symbolism or were “triggered” beyond reason. By basically saying only the phrase “I do pledge my allegiance to the ideals of the United States of America and am willing to stand by that statement.” The firestorm blew over in a week, the dispensers of drama had moved on.

The lessons I took from this that apply to crisis response are:

  • Control the message outside self by controlling the messages inside self

Say only what you want to have heard, written about the subject.

Don’t feel obliged to answer the questions asked. Reporters are after a story; they are not your friends. You only owe them respect.

Crisis can be a time to identify the ineffective habits learned in your past.

Use the opportunity to unlearn any reaction to act from anger, control others, and/or defensively react to feeling emotional pain.

  • You can’t control people, places or things

Ask for the serenity
to accept the things you cannot change; the courage to change the things you can; 
and wisdom to know the difference. (From The Serenity Prayer)

As hard as it might be to believe, have the compassion to recognize that people are usually doing the best they can. Judgmental pricks… (It’s the best I can do, really!)

  • Apologize and forgive

It never hurts to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” See the suffering in the other that is motivating an attack on you and remember it’s hurt people who hurt people.

Resentment is literally heavy to carry; while forgiveness releases energy and frees you.

Flash Forward

Recently a digital discussion of our business model at our company, SocialAgenda Media, offered an opportunity to practice these lessons.  See my partner/wife’s blog about it here.

A reporter showed one of our letters, “I supply you with fully developed stories (completed articles) that you can publish under your byline, with or without editing, at no fee.” to an Internet blogger and some of the reactions and opinions about what we do were so harsh my wife shielded me from it. You can read her responses in the comment thread of the article. BTW, She’s got a great skirt for me to hide behind ;-).

As so often happens the conversation came to be about symptoms, in this case, the not so slow death of newspaper journalism and who’s to blame for the ripples radiating out from the disaster, rather than the core failed business model problem that begs for an open-minded search for solutions, including new ways to fund accountability and investigative journalism in this era of the Internet and corporate media consolidation.

SocialAgenda Media is attempting to support the continued existence of quality journalism using a new business model that will be able to support the work of journalists and viability of newspapers and magazines in new ways as the old ways die.

The prohibition against even the appearance of money being exchanged for information in journalism rests on the concern it will give consumers a bad impression. The implication that association with money automatically makes the content unreliable taken to its conclusion, makes all content coming out of any enterprise suspect. Pew Research statistics show believability of newspapers and TV news and information down to around 50% and falling fast, hardly a recommendation for maintaining the status quo.

For the record, I seek ways to finance getting good ideas, people and products the exposure they deserve in the hope the information will make a positive difference in their and our worlds. It’s as simple, and apparently for some as complex, as that. For more on the topic of paying journalists

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