Transparency, News Media and the NBA

What do news media and the NBA have in common?

If you guessed a trust problem, go to the head of the class.

So it’s interesting to see two pieces within a day of each other, suggesting the same solution to the respective industries’ woes.

Henry Abbott, in What the NBA Needs: Transparency offers a radical suggestion:

the crisis is if all those people who love watching the NBA find themselves in the position of not trusting the referees. That’s an indictment of the game itself…

The NBA keeps telling us how many ways they assess their referees. They insinuate that if we knew what they know, we’d trust those referees, too. Maybe that’s true. But telling us so isn’t going to convince anyone.

NBA, you’re going to have to show us.

… Let us go online after every single game and see video of every single call, all neatly sliced and diced by player, by time of game, by type of call, by referee, and by a bunch of other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Henry makes an important point about transparency—it’s hard to be partly transparent, because being partly transparent immediately suggests you’re hiding something. Call that a negative feedback loop. Don’t tell us—show us.

Alicia Shepard at the Chicago Tribune writes For News Media, Transparency Is a Matter of Trust, saying:

Poll after poll, year after year, the message is the same: Journalists are ranked down with used-car salesmen and snake-oil peddlers when it comes to credibility.

Is it because reporters lie? Is it because reporters make so many mistakes? Or because reporters are biased?

No. It’s because the public does not understand what journalists do or how the news gets put together, whether it’s for TV, print, radio or the Internet.

… The news industry should work harder at exhibiting the same transparency about how it operates that it demands from public corporations and all levels of government.

…. "Transparency is essential because it’s inextricably tied to credibility," said Susan Moeller, director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda. "Transparency doesn’t ensure accuracy. But it does ensure that when a news outlet makes a mistake … its audience can be assured that the news outlet is going to admit to it and correct it and will have policies in place for following it up."

Several other industries look at the same diagnosis—“the public does not understand us”—and conclude they have a PR problem, solvable by “getting the word out.”

NBA fans and media hounds know that won’t cut it. Transparency is not great spin—it’s a spin-free zone.

In our personal lives, the solution to mistrust is to “come clean,” “let it all hang out,” “just put it out there,” “tell the whole truth.” Be transparent.

At an industry level, the same dynamics are at play.

0 replies
  1. Shaula Evans
    Shaula Evans says:

    Charlie, have credibility and trust issues for corporations and industries *always* been regarded as a PR problem?  Or have you been able to observe a trend through your own career away from substance and towards PR?

    I’m asking because I’m curious how things got to where they are today — in the hopes that the historic path might reveal clues on how to undo the coporate preference for sizzle over steak.

    I’m also interested in  where in your estimation are the most powerful "insertion points" ("intervention points?") for getting the message of transparency across:  individual people, individual companies, industries, and/or the PR industry?

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Shaula, what a great set of questions.  Please others chime in, because to her first question: I do not have an answer, even though I’ve been around a few years.

    My vague impression, which I’d be hard-pressed to prove, is that credibility and trust were not viewed as "PR" problems say, 40 years ago, in the way they are today.

    My sense is that they were viewed as no less important than now, but that the solutions were viewed as more long-term.  That’s not a statement of virtue: I think managers in the past felt frustrated at not having the kinds of tools we have now, so they tended to hunker down, circle the wagons and work on long-term improvements.

    As to getting the transparency issue across, I think nothing beats the personal example of leaders: think of how often the principled response of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO to the Tylenol crisis is still cited, despite the event having happened in the Pleistocene Era.

    And interesting you should mention PR firms: any PR firm that has the cojones to recommend to a client that they go naked (aka transparent) on a given issue would have an outsized impact–because it’s precisely the advice we have not come to expect from PR firms.  A Nixon to China opportunity.

    Transparency at an industry level, I think, is an issue frequently with respect to conflicts of interest.  The best medicine there is the guts to face those issue.  Offhand I can’t think of a single industry that has had those guts in the last few decades, though I’ll happily stand corrected by someone.

    What do y’all think?

  3. Shaula Evans
    Shaula Evans says:

    Thank you for the answer, Charlie — and I hope your readers will chime in as well.

    Back to the substance of your post: 

    NYU Journalism prof Jay Rosen credits Steve Smith, editor of the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, with pioneering the transparent newsroom.  Jay has a great interview on his site with Steve Smith on how the transparent newsroom can work.  Good reading, very much at a nuts and bolts level of HOW news organizations can function transparently to earn and deserve the trust of their audiences.


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