a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Michael Bryant case shows Wikipedia waits for nobody

Most of Canada by now has read and heard about the horrific traffic incident involving Michael Bryant and a cyclist who died as a result on the second last day of August.

The former Ontario Attorney General is facing serious charges and no doubt wondering how he can save his career.

The purpose of this post is not to speculate on what actually happened. But it became immediately clear this bizarre and tragic story is likely to become a case study in reputation management.

There was an interesting development on the night of the incident at about 10 p.m. in the Yorkville district of Toronto, well past most media deadlines.

Journalists converging on the scene needed a few hours to piece together what happened and most media were reluctant at first to identify Bryant as the driver without confirmation by the police.

But at some point in that overnight period Wikipedia, the online reference service that depends on voluntary submissions, went ahead and identified Bryant and provided a rough account without police confirmation. At one point CBC Radio actually read the Wikipedia entry.

There is a lesson here to professional crisis communicators: monitor Wikipedia with the rest of the media immediately.

Also interesting was that once Bryant had called a lawyer, he called a high-profile public relations firm, Navigator, and retained them immediately. Smart move. The court of public opinion is just as important as the court of law when it comes to reputation management.

Navigator's involvement seems to have made a huge difference. By the second day of coverage, virtually all media were focused on the background of the man who died in the incident, including his brushes with the law and the fact that he was ordered by police to leave the apartment of his ex-girl friend in an enraged state the same night.

By the third day, Bryant was looking more like a victim who was only fleeing an incident of road rage. The story had been professionally reframed.

Sure, all relevant information about this case would have become public eventually. However, by the time it did, he case would have been cast in the public mind with Bryant as a sole aggressor.

I am interested in what fellow communicators think about this case. Please let me know what you think about Navigator's involvement.

1 comment:

  1. Long time no see, Gord. As someone who was involved in the Bryant coverage, I can assured you that Navigator played no role in the coverage of the man who died in the Bryant incident. In fact, it was good, solid reporting on the day after the death that produced the details. I dare say neither Bryant nor Navigator had a clue about the dead man's background until it appeared in the media.
    Sometimes too much credit can be given to spin doctors.