Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Giant meets an unfair Headline

Yesterday, a post on the Dallas Morning News Investigates Blog gave a curious headline that called into question the communication openness of a popular local theme park
"Six Flags Over Texas now says the Texas Giant roller coaster will remain closed all day today -- the third straight day of a mysterious safety problem at the Arlington amusement park."
The headline and first line of the post struck me as strange because from a PR perspective, any opportunity to effectively communicate a situation relating to an error with the Texas Giant (a popular wooden roller coaster) that could impact the safety of patrons would be well worth the time to research and explain.

And that is exactly what the spokeswoman did when asked by the Dallas Morning News (DMN) writer, "what kind of error?"
"I haven't been given that information yet...I'm just holding tight until the engineers provide me with that information...Our priority right now is getting to the root of it and making sure that we get it up and running safely. To me that's the No. 1 priority. I'm in constant communication with them. When the time is appropriate they will let me know, and I will convey that information to you guys. Until that time there is nothing else to share." [source]
Time to Share
So the PR person explained the situation based on the information she had at the time and expressed a willingness to discuss it further after receiving more information and yet the investigative reporter goes with a They won't talk headline. Um, what?

This is an unfortunate example of the type of unfair characterization on the part of a media outlet to suggest impropriety and obfuscation when in fact there clearly was a willingness to share. Perhaps it was done sensationalize the story a bit, which judging by some of the comments on the post was how at least some people thought. Other comments took the side of the concerned public and was pushing for more questions and inquiry. Other commenters attacked each other over previous comments. Still others called into question the reasoning behind the DMN covering something as silly as a roller coaster temporary closure. At one point in the comments, the writer interjected:
"I'm not speculating. Everything may well be fine. I'm just asking questions. That's my job. When people don't answer the questions, that makes me more curious. Think about it: If you ask your kid a question about what's wrong and they don't answer, don't you get more curious?"
[emphasis added]
Exactly when did the PR person not answer his question? In fact, later in the evening a local radio station's Web site had an update posted on the coaster situation as well as a new post today (with yet another They won't talk headline) was provided on the DMN blog since more details were ready to be released.

Big Picture Time
The temporary closure of this popular wooden roller coaster doesn't really reach level-critical since nothing much happened in this situation at the amusement park beyond a problem was detected, a decision was made to suspend operations, and details were explained when they were available.

Communication Carry-out: PR professionals need to guard against speculating on any situation in which we do not have all of the information. We need to wait until we have enough of the truth to share that would help shed some light on a situation. I applaud how the Six Flags spokeswoman handled the information release, it is just unfortunate that a decision was made to muddy-up the truth for the community. What do you think?