“Breaking News”: A Media Company Communicates In Crisis

In the media business, when the media company itself becomes the focus of news, the corporate suits tend to do what makes the company’s journalist employees’ eyes roll.

It’s almost always some version of “we don’t comment on personnel matters.” It rarely follows the fundamentals of effective external or internal communication.

But this story is different.

When word leaked of a newsroom memo at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan demanding that journalists cover “both sides” of Pride events, it became news in the media industry and around Michigan. West Michigan is actually the 42nd biggest TV market in the country, larger than New Orleans, Memphis and others with pro sports teams. And WOOD-TV is what we would call in broadcasting the “heritage” station in that market. Adding fuel were employee comments on social media publicly challenging management on this, something that is highly unusual if not unheard of in that business.

To its credit, the station’s owner, Nexstar Media Group, which is a behemoth in the industry, communicated a statement within hours. The statement even appears on the station’s website. Typically the last place to read news about a media outlet is via that entity. “Day two” headlines focused on the company vowing to take investigative action.

While there’s way too much statement-analysis-as-PR-analysis in today’s environment, a portion of the company’s statement is worth sharing here because it is strong and avoids the “say something without really saying anything” factor that this industry often uses:

“We’re looking into the situation at WOOD-TV, as the communication regarding the station’s coverage of PRIDE month activities in the area is not consistent with Nexstar’s values, the way we cover the news, or the respect we have for our viewers. We will take appropriate action as necessary to address this situation, and apologize for offending members of the LGBTQ community and WOOD-TV’s viewers.”

Media companies are in a competitive business at a time where they are fighting for relevance, especially with audiences under the age of 65. Moments like this can reveal how serious any company is about its employees and customers. The lessons for any company here are numerous but they include: Communicate head-on when faced with adversity, communicate to buy the company time to get to the bottom of what caused a challenging situation, and keep your employees front of mind. Another takeaway here: Don’t dwell on what your industry typically does – meet the moment with the message.