I wonder whether Roger Godell ever heard of, watched or logged on to TMZ before last week’s horrific video of Ray Rice and his fiancée was released. Well, if he hadn’t heard of it before last week, he definitely knows about it now. For PR people like us, this latest NFL crisis teaches us many different lessons.
First, credible news doesn’t come from only the well-respected news outlets any more. David Carr writing in Monday’s New York Times even says, “There is a lesson in there for legacy news organizations that believe they can hold back the tide of insurgents…It has become clear that audiences will tune into and believe whoever has the goods.” While many people are critical of paying for news, in some cases where the news is so real, it sure looks like paying for it is the right thing to do. As Carr states, “Seeing is more than believing; it is telling.”
Second, never get too cozy with your news sources. This is a lesson for ESPN. Carr calls it a “bromance” between the NFL and ESPN and he is absolutely right. The same could be said for CBS, NBC and Fox who broadcast NFL games. All of these networks and the league desperately need each other. No doubt, money is the object of the game that both are playing. When money becomes the true motivating factor in newsgathering, nothing good often happens. Some may say that ESPN isn’t a news organization but rather an entertainment network. Yet, to decide this question, ask yourself if they would have liked to have that TMZ video first. Imagine the eyeballs and brand notoriety that they would be basking in now. Instead, they are playing catch up to a “gossip site.” The same can’t be said for CBS, NBC and Fox. All have formidable news divisions but the question for them is whether the NFL just got a pass on this story.
Finally, what could the NFL have done better? If it is proven that Ray Rice did tell the NFL and Roger Godell in particular the whole truth back in June, then there is a lesson for every organization to learn. Get it all out early. Rather than letting the news trickle out all last week, conduct a quick and thorough internal investigation and release the findings immediately regardless of the short-term ramifications. If this was done early last week, you would probably never have gotten to the point of appointing an independent investigator at the end of the week. A good rule of thumb is to prepare as if it can be known, it will be known and you may never get TMZZZZZZZZZZZed.