ON TRUST: WHY WE NOW SUSPECT THAT BILL IS FULL OF SHIT, BUT WE BELIEVE ALEXIA

ON TRUST: WHY WE NOW SUSPECT THAT BILL IS FULL OF SHIT, BUT WE BELIEVE ALEXIA

Shane BarnhillSunday,17 March 2013

The Snap:

Recently, ESPN suspended columnist Bill Simmons for his criticism of the show First Take. Simmons weighed in after an on-air argument between First Take co-host Skip Bayless and NFL cornerback Richard Sherman (see video below). Simmons called the argument — and more broadly, the entire show — “embarrassing to everyone involved,” and openly questioned why anyone watches it. Simmons went on to further comment about the argument, tweeting that “Nobody won. Everyone lost. Including ESPN.” The brass at ESPN obviously felt Simmons had gone too far, and mandated a three-day suspension from Twitter.

The Download:

ESPN’s reaction may be unsurprising to many people, who might expect to be disciplined for encouraging customers to stay away from their employer’s product. But Simmons’ role as a journalist — he not only writes for ESPN’s Grantland, but he also hosts NBA Countdown for ESPN’s parent network ABC — paints the situation in a different light. ESPN pays Simmons to be opinionated about a variety of sports-related topics. Thus, it’s critical for Simmons to be viewed as credible by viewers and readers of ESPN’s channels.

And that’s the heart of the matter. How can ESPN’s audiences trust anything that Simmons tweets, writes or says going forward? Simmons will clearly have to sanitize his true opinions and self-censor going forward, being mindful of the boundaries that ESPN has placed on his commentary. In the backs of their minds, readers and viewers will always suspect that Simmons may now be full of (corporate vetted) shit.

Compare Simmons to TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis. Tsotsis is gifted writer. But more importantly, she has the full trust of TechCrunch’s audience because of the open, direct style in which she handles thorny issues and challenging circumstances at TechCrunch (see more examples here and here and here). She is also a sharp critic of TechCrunch’s parent company AOL, whenever it is warranted. AOL, however, gives Tsotsis the freedom that she needs to be critical and trustworthy.

Consequently, Tsotsis and her team of writers have an unparalleled level of credibility in tech journalism. Readers might not always agree with them (MG Siegler, in particular, has his share of haters because of his unwavering Apple fanboy-sim), but they always know that they’re not getting fed a line of legal-reviewed bullshit.

Trust is everything. This is true whether you’re a journalist, an author, or corporate communications specialist. But I don’t want you to finish reading this post and think that censorship is the issue. It’s not. The issue is style, or, more specifically, having a trustworthy style of communication.

Because while it’s true that press releases may need legal review, most forms of communication do not. So take a look at yours. Are they usually carefully vetted by legal and red-lined by a team of corporate communication specialists? Or worse, are you the one drawing those red lines? If so, then consider how groups such as politicians and car salespeople, whose communications are carefully scripted to manipulate their audiences, are among the least trusted people around.

Nobody wants “corporate speak.” They want direct, honest thoughts from you. If you’re censoring your best people and shoveling recycled marketing materials at your audiences, then you’re probably missing out on opportunities to build the type of trust that Tsotsis is helping to build at TechCrunch.

Hat Tips:

YouTube, Slate, Deadspin, TechCrunchImage Credit: Flickr

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