Sunday, June 03, 2012

To Tell the Truth

Funny how that still remains a "strategy", but in the face of some fairly draconian budget cuts proposed for all Louisiana public universities both major systems decided to launch an offensive of saying what those abstract numbers mean.

LSU's administrators lead off by rattling the cages that certain campus locations would be "put in mothballs." The next day, the University of Louisiana System played catch-up, issuing a template for all campuses to release.

Northwestern State was a little different among the nine peers of ULS: we put our story on the website. Only one other ULS member did so. We were the only one to link it to our Facebook and send it out via Twitter.

That was not done without some concern, and some of the reactions we got on Facebook weren't what we expected. However, the next few days, the feedback received by faculty and staff, as well as key local community members, made it well worth the "risk". They all appreciated the honesty, and became appropriately concerned (is my area on the chopping block?).

This needs to be framed for some of the national followers with this note: back in 2008, NSU made some very deep cuts in the face of another budget crisis -- dropping programs and tenured faculty. In that round, the university was pretty round beat up for not being out front with bad news.

No surprise in this space as I've always advocated that you should be the one that tells your bad news.

At the same time, you can go too far. Two Gulf Coast cities received news that they would be losing their daily newspapers, but there is a world of difference between how the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Mobile Press-Register shared the same info.

The Press-Register sold it with a banner headline of "Exciting News" (literally) for readers. Hey, isn't this great, you don't get a paper four days a week!

As Paul Greenburg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette noted, it's like saying there is exciting news, you've been laid off. (As an aside: ADG recently announced it would raise daily issue costs, which seems a little more reasonable. If you want the print edition, maybe that's going to be a boutique buy and $1 isn't unreasonable [have you checked out newsstand magazine prices lately?].

Plus, Warren Buffett -- who just bought a BUNCH of local and regional papers -- certainly didn't think the NOLA move made sense.) There is some research to back Greenburg's point: it's better to be up front with the bad news.

In Forbes a couple of weeks back, there was a very touching first-person column about how being compassionate and straight with the bad news is the best approach. If you don't believe me, ask Richard Nixon. Or Bobby Petrino.

No comments: