Last week, the Boston University student-run newspaper,
The Daily Free Press, learned how to deal with a
crisis the hard way.
In its annual April Fool's issue, which usually sports
Onion-esque satirical content, the newspaper produced
Disney-themed stories that prominently featured sexual assault and
rape. In light of the recent issues with two BU hockey
players being arrested for sexual
rape, the BU and surrounding community responded with outrage.
They called for the newspaper's editor, Chelsea Diana, to step down
from her position for her poor judgment in running those stories.
Within a matter of hours, The Daily Free Press
requested and accepted Chelsea Diana's resignation and issued a
series of apologies on its website.
The Daily Free Press handled this situation well in
some instances and poorly in others. Here are five takeaways that
can help anyone better deal with crises:
problems before they happen. While you don't have to be a
mind reader, make sure you understand your audience and their
opinions before publishing content. In this case, BU experienced
multiple crises since November revolving around sexual assault and
had recently taken strides to eliminate the university's rape
culture through the Center for
Gender, Sexuality and Activism's Take
Back the Night (TBTN) Rally. The Daily Free
Press even covered BU's TBTN Rally by live tweeting during the
event. In this atmosphere, The Daily Free Press should
have anticipated problems with producing satire about sexual
assault and rape. As a communications professional, you should
always be aware of the issues facing your audiences, and be
sensitive to how to communicate with them appropriately about those
everywhere. Though the April Fool's edition was only in
print, the conversation around the paper
quickly broke out online. By listening to the outrage on
Facebook, Twitter and blogs, The Daily Free Press learned
of the problems with the issue and realized it needed to respond
immediately. Communications professionals should always be aware
that conversations aren't in a vacuum-they often switch between
quickly. One thing I will really commend The Daily
Free Press on is its almost immediate reaction time. Within 12
hours, the paper issued Chelsea Diana's apology, the Board of
Directors' announcement of her resignation and the staff's
response. While there still is conversation going on about this
crisis, the newspaper's swift action helped reduce how long it
could have lasted. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle,
communications professionals do not have time to wait to respond to
a situation if they want to calm it down. Being nimble, especially
on the web, is essential to responding to a crisis.
4. Have a unified
message. Besides the actual content of the April Fool's
issue, having one message was one of The Daily Free Press'
biggest problems when dealing with this crisis. Among the now
former Editor in Chief, the Board of Directors and staff, there was
no central message.
Chelsea Diana was extremely apologetic and readily admitted her
mistakes without blaming the audience for being upset.
The Board of Directors was also apologetic, but made sure to
portray Chelsea Diana as the villain in the situation.
The staff issued a back-handed statement apologizing for the
content while pointing fingers at the readers for being too
sensitive. While I do commend the newspaper for responding as
quickly as possible, they should have also made sure to have a
centralized message among these three groups to show the
organization's unification. This step is crucial to
communicating, whether in a crisis or not.
5. Learn from your
mistakes. A crisis does not have to define your
organization forever. The Daily Free Press and Chelsea
an extremely valuable lesson through this whole debacle, so
they should make sure to show their audiences that they are
learning from this crisis instead of just telling them that it will
never happen again. This is the most important step of a crisis, as
it sets the foundation for the future of the organization's
success. Only time will tell if The Daily Free Press has
learned its lesson and if the community will forgive.
Do you have any more tips for handling a crisis? Tweet at us
with your insights.
Ginny Soskey is an Intern at Solomon McCown and senior at Boston