Today via Geekwire (and others) we’re hearing about how the radio show This American Life has issued a wholesale retraction of their story from January about factory working conditions at an Apple supplier in China. The full retraction is available on This American Life’s blog.
What’s interesting about this is how they’re handling the issue. News organizations make mistakes and issue retractions regularly: this isn’t a unique incident. But, as This American’s Life’s press release makes clear, this wasn’t just any story for them. This was a very big story for them.
To their credit, since they have to retract a big story, they’re doing so in a big way. They’ve essentially done a new story talking about how they got this wrong. They’re even doing a special broadcast just to focus on how they got this wrong. And, they’ve taken full and clear responsibility, apologized, and spoken openly about how this situation can impact the trust their audience puts in them.
A big mistake on a big story requires a big response to make it right. By handling this like they have, This American Life has not only taken steps that very effectively mitigate the harm of this incident, by being so open and upfront they’ve also taken steps to actively regain the trust that they acknowledge an incident like this can harm.
This is a model for how news organizations can effectively handle situations like this. They really should be commended.
One of my areas of speciality and focus has been managing data security and privacy crises.
So it’s been an interesting month to watch with three different incidents:
- The Epsilon data breach which saw the loss of customer names and email addresses for over thirty of Epsilon’s clients.
- The Apple iPhone tracking issue.
- The Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) outage and data breach.
While these issues affect different companies and different industries, all three major incidents are similar in terms of the shortcomings of their crisis communications response. In all three cases, there is a distinct lack of simple, clear, proactive, authoritative information coming from the affected companies.
With Sony it’s a slow, seemingly grudging response. With Apple it’s a backpedaling response with a hint of “you don’t understand”. And with Epsilon and its clients, it’s an uncoordinated, scattered and confusing response.
All three situations are bigger crises and bigger hits to reputation than they needed to be and that’s because of how the communication has been handled (or not). In fact, in the case of Sony, they’ve managed to obscure the fact that they’re doing the right thing from a technical point of view with their communications. There’s a lost opportunity there for them to get credit for a good technical response.
There’s a lot that can be analyzed with each of these situations but at a high-level, it’s good to take a step back and notice that there’s a trend here towards poor communications around data privacy incidents taking shape.