News reflection: TV news reminds us to mind our messaging

March 24, 2015

This week news from the television industry taught important lessons in communications, and served as a reminder to be careful what you say, how you say it, and where you say it.

Samsung reminds us to mind the fine print

Likely operating under the generally correct assumption that no one reads the privacy policy, Samsung was less than clear when writing the guide for its new Smart TV with voice recognition. A careful consumer at The Daily Beast caught the following language and let the Internet know that your TV may be listening:

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Thanks to Edward Snowden, Rupert Murdoch and George Orwell, the media and its consumers were happy to assume your television could share private conversations with NSA or GCHQ , prompting a blog post from the company explicitly stating, “Samsung Smart TVs Do Not Monitor Living Room Conversations.”

Samsung changed the language in the privacy to a more informative (albeit opaque) explanation that, in sum, your spoken words will be converted to text and sent to an outside vendor to improve the voice command capabilities. A defensive campaign allowed Samsung to mitigate some of the damage, with some outlets noting that initial reports had overreacted.

Nonetheless, Samsung positioned itself as the company whose technology is watching you, not through its marketing materials, but in its privacy policy, reminding us that even the fine print needs to be clear, accurate, and on message.

NBC learns what happens on Facebook does not stay on Facebook

Brian Williams was suspended from his position as the host of NBCs Nightly News for at least six months this week after an account from his time covering the Iraq War in 2003 was exposed as a fabrication. The Brian Williams controversy has implications for news media and television journalism across the world, but NBC’s damage control efforts offer specific lessons for the public relations field, as The New York Times pointed out in a recent article.

While the story has been covered across all forms of print and digital media, the public debate started with a non-traditional and rapidly growing news outlet: Facebook.

NBC published a clip on its page of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for retired soldier Tim Terpack, which reiterated the misinformation that Brian Williams had been in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. In the comments, crew members of the helicopter that had been hit noted that Brian Williams was not on board the downed chopper. Without informing his team, Brian Williams took to Facebook and apologized, saying that he misremembered the story and had inadvertently created a media firestorm.

Military-focused publication Stars and Stripes was the first to pick up the Facebook thread and ran with Brian Williams’ digital apology. A team at NBC was assembled to address the quickly escalating situation. “But the Facebook post boxed them in,” the NYT notes. “The explanations had to match.”

New media wields an impressive power, and successful organizations would do well not to ignore it. Training executives in the digital arts—and working to ensure your team isn’t going rogue—can help contain a crisis before it begins.

If a TV star quits when the cameras aren’t rolling, it still happened.

Lastly, Jon Stewart took the opportunity to tell his audience personally that he’d be leaving his post as the long time Daily Show anchor, opening the door for the studio audience of the pre-taped show to tell their networks the news before the network made its own announcement. As rumors spread, Comedy Central took to Twitter to make the announcement official (and Twitter replied).

Knowing that the news of his departure would be public by the time his show aired, Jon Stewart chose to address his audience directly, which simultaneously took the initial public reports out of his and the network’s hands. It was a calculated risk in an age when even marriage proposals have multi-platform rollout strategies, but it allowed Jon Stewart to address his departure from the seat he will be leaving.