The recent flap over a news station’s rush to post the names of the Asiana Flight 214 crew illustrates a critical lesson in crisis communications: Always verify information before acting upon it.
For those of you living under a rock who missed this massive goof, here’s the short version:
In today’s rush to be first (rather than “the most accurate”) purveyor of news, a San Francisco Bay-Area TV station, KTVU, reported what they were told were the names of the Asiana Airlines crew. They got them from a source at the NTSB. The “names” turned out to be a joke, four culturally insensitive puns given to the station by an unidentified (and now unemployed) intern at the National Transportation Safety Board. Instead of actually reading those names aloud before they said them on the air, the station simply slapped them up on a teleprompter and had their anchor read off “Captain Sum Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Low” with so much as an “Are you kidding me?”. Reports are that the station did hurriedly try to confirm the tip, but it’s still a case of not knowing your turf. Anyone who’s dealt with the NTSB should know that the agency never confirms the names of flight-crew members in crashes that are under investigation.
Which brings us back to a critical lesson for those of us on the crisis communications side of the desk: When managing a developing situation, only release information you can confirm. Then, confirm it again. If you’re going to battle a crisis of confidence, you need to be confident in the story you’re advancing.