The failure of the “No comment”

Editorial on challenges involved in distributing the messages the public needs to hear

One of the worst things an association can do for its cause is to say, “No comment.”

There are countless times that phrase, or something like it, has been used on me and it never gets old. Another good one is, “It’s not news.”

If it wasn’t news, the newspaper wouldn’t be there to talk about whatever is happening. Generally speaking saying, “No comment,” will harm your organization more than it will bring benefit. In this age of free information, with even easier access to it, taking control of the situation is in a group’s best interest.

An organization is in the know because it has all the cards, so-to-speak, and rather than hoping that trouble will disappear on its own, an organization actually has the ability to shape the outcome of the story. Not only that, readers and those concerned with the story, will respect the organization that much more for its transparency.

Regardless of whether the events are contentious or hold some breaking news information, being clear, concise and working with one’s media contacts is paramount as it will provide clarity to a confusing situation. That clarity helps dispel coffee talk and rumour-mongering.

Ponoka, and probably every community, has its fair share of dissident social media sites. They’re rife with folks WHO PREFER SHOUTING AT YOU DIGITALLY!!!!!!!! than having any kind of open discourse or consultation (emphasis on the upper case and exclamation point). These people don’t actually care what others think. They hope to create confusion and to sway people’s opinions with misinformation.

Replying on a tough topic with, “No comment,” only adds to the confusion, creating opportunities for supposition and conjecture. These rumour mills thrive in that type of uncertainty. Why would anyone want to give them more power than they already have?

Education matters when it comes to contentious issues and an organization has the opportunity and responsibility to provide that information to reduce any confusion, which may actually benefit them. If stakeholders have all the information, it helps reduce the dissension because guess what, people already know what’s happening through your efforts.

The biggest challenge I have seen for any group and the individuals involved when it comes to a potentially contentious issue is that people do not have the whole story. Granted, some things a group cannot discuss such as personnel concerns, but there are ways of getting the information out in an official capacity. If it’s done right, there is no confusion because people have all the information so that they can make an informed decision.

The other option is of course, to do nothing and say nothing. But does that really help anyone? People will look to these groups for the answers and if they aren’t provided, I suggest a deep disservice will have occurred.

Folks in rural communities have longer memories than Alberta winters and inaction or a tendency not to comment will add a notch of distrust to a group and will remain there until that group proves itself in the community. Why put your association in a trust deficit when it can actually have some credit for its transparency.

When a reporter comes up to you asking for comment, I suggest the first thing you do is welcome them and find out what they want to know.