..these stories are a kind of beacon. By making stories full of empathy and amusement and the sheer pleasure of discovering the world, these writers reassert the fact that we live in a world where joy and empathy and pleasure are all around us, there for the noticing.
― Ira Glass
So Ira Glass has always been a hero of mine. I love This American Life. In case you have been living on mars and do not know , This American Life is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners. It has won all of the major broadcasting awards. It is also often the most popular podcast in the country, with around 700,000 people downloading each week. The stories they tell always touch me in some way. It is must not miss radio for me every week.
Last week Ira Glass and This American Life had to do something they have never done before. They had to retract a story. They reported a story that they later found out was filled with fabrications. They did fact check the story and while some of the major info was true, some of the work was not. They reported information that did not meet their high standards nor the standards of their profession.The most powerful moments of the story that they were not able to fact check were in fact found to be not true.
This post is not about the story but about the way This American Life (TAL) handled the crisis.
1. They were transparent. TAL very plainly, honestly and openly admitted their mistakes. They did not try and sugar coat them, nor did they try to give them a pretty spin No excuses were made. They were not happy about the situation and did not pretend to be. Nonprofits should acknowledge simply and honestly when problems exist or that some how the public trust has been affected. Nonprofits should always communicate issues, problems and mistakes to donors, volunteers and stakeholders with accurate timelines and facts. Please do not send out any type of “self serving message” or hide behind weak arguments that minimize the problem in times of crisis. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information as it becomes available. And if its your fault, please for the love of life just say “It’s our fault.”
2. They took decisive action. TAL in being transparent showed decisive action. They told their side of the story, owning their mistakes, before anyone else did. Trust me your mistake will get out. It may not be today, or tomorrow, but it will come to light. TAL knew this and presented themselves as the source on this issue. An organization’s need to tell its side of the story before an information vacuum arises. People who have been affected will want to tell their story. They will tell it with or without your support. Nonprofits who do not readily fill the vacuum and present themselves as the source will do great damage to the organization’s reputation. Do not believe me, go ask Komen.
3. Trust/credibility was strengthened after mistakes..- The fabrication in the story was brought to life by someone outside of TAL’s organization. When this independent resource brought it to their attention, they let this person become the lead investigator. They also made a public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken conclusively address the issues. They did not just talk about doing the right thing, but they actually did it. There were no disingenuous phrases like . . . if we had only known . . . or . . . these things happen, unfortunately. Once they knew they fixed it and they made no excuse for their failings in the process. To keep your credibility and reputation in tact please take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place.
Ira Glass and TAL team were authentic and truthful in their disappointment with this entire situation including their own actions. They exceeded my expectations in the way they handled the crisis, because of that I will be happily sending a check to my local NPR station.
They did not lose a listener, they gained a lifetime donor.
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