Responding to a Tragedy

Punking is a staple of entertainment radio.

Duping someone on the air by pretending to be a famous person or eyewitness to a news event has been a favorite of radio jocks for years.  Howard Stern’s program is famous for its irreverent punking. Usually, it’s just harmless fun for a cheap laugh.

That changed last week with news of the apparent suicide of a hospital nurse in Britain who was punked by two Australian jocks seeking details of Princess Kate’s condition.    The headline caused a massive wave of vitriol to be launched at the perpetuators of the hoax, DJ’s Mel Greig and Michael Christian of 2DayFM, even though it was clear the joke was never intended to cause anyone harm.

Still, the DJs, along with 2DayFM’s parent, Southern Cross Austereo, recognized they needed to take immediate action in response.  Greig and Christian were taken off the air and both they and the station wrote notes of their deep regret over what happened.   Then, Southern Cross Austereo brought Greig and Christian in front of the microphones for a teary public apology and announced it was putting up more than half a million dollars in a memorial fund for the family of the dead nurse.

No matter how you feel about the punking incident, it’s hard to fault the DJs or their employer for their efforts once they recognized what had happened because of their actions.  Not only was their response the right thing to do, it was also a good lesson for others on how to deal with the media in such circumstances.

Like the Australians, at some time you might find yourself in the middle of a negative media firestorm over something that you or your company/organization did.   There’s no “good” way out, but there are plenty of bad ways to respond.   The important thing to remember is you MUST respond–and respond fast–and your response has to be heartfelt and honest.   Waiting…denying what you know is true…intentionally downplaying the seriousness of the incident…or trying to place the blame elsewhere will only make the situation worse.  The media won’t be fooled.

When a crisis strikes, it’s vital to be completely straight…and act with compassion.

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