In the housing development industry there’s something called the broken window theory that’s proven to be critical to the improvement of neighborhoods and cities across North America. A Harvard criminologist had noted that if a broken window in a building went unrepaired all other windows would soon be broken. Apparently, the unfixed window sends a message that no one cares enough to fix it and vandalism will go unpunished. Leaving graffiti on the walls evokes the same reaction. If there’s no response to the most petty of crimes, vandals take over the building and lay waste to the neighborhood. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani used the theory to successfully clean up crime in New York in the 1990’s.
I’m using the theory here as a rallying cry for becoming a Credible Spokesperson. In the end, a poorly reported story is almost always the result of a poorly conducted interview. Petty acts of spokesperson inaccuracy, lack of focus, poor preparation, hostility towards the news media, lack of effective interview agenda control and a misperception of the job of a reporter are rampant in many media interviews. Combine this with the two hard realities. First, the media institutions most reporters work for are now driven by an increasingly intense competition for scarce advertiser dollars forcing these institutions to skimp on the resources required for good reporting. And second, the insane demands of 24-hour news and the almost instantaneous speed that information, true and false, now moves through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter means that time for fact-checking diminishes and accuracy suffers. From the perspective of a Credible Spokesperson, that’s a very potent recipe for interviews going sideways. And yet, whether it’s politics, science, health, economics, business or the arts, the news media continues to be a huge picture window frame through which we see the world. And so, back to the broken window theory, if spokespeople don’t care enough to make sure the window glass is clean, unbroken and well framed, they run the risk of succumbing to its outfall and to reputations laid waste. You can’t shoot the messenger if you don’t take charge of keeping the neighborhood clean. That’s why Credible Spokespeople are so important; these are the people who do the hard work of being effective communicators, of keeping the record straight and of taking charge of the interview agenda. They’re disciplined in their answers and understand the impact of what they’re saying. Fewer broken windows, less graffiti, more trust and a better chance at a credible reputation.