Turn on any cable news network, follow any politically charged Twitter streams or open your Facebook app and you’re bound to read someone wailing about ‘fake news.’ On Feb. 25, the Underground Collision will explore this pop culture phenomenon and how it’s affecting credit unions’ ability to get their stories out with credibility. From the editorial decision process to philosophically emboldened bank bashing to clickbait, take a peek at what’s to come during the panel, featuring Cooke Consulting Solutions Principal Sarah Snell Cooke, gameFI Founder Matt Davis, CUinsight Co-Founder/Publisher Randy Smith and CUToday.info Cooperator-in-Chief Frank Diekmann.
Sarah Snell Cooke, Cooke Consulting Solutions
On Feb. 6, Credit Union Times published the article, "Lawsuit Accuses Credit Union CEO Who Pioneered Pot Banking of Drug Use." As one might expect, the naming of a high-profile credit union CEO in a lawsuit involving cocaine use caused quite the stir. Two former employees of the CUSO Safe Harbor Services, LLC, are suing for wrongful discharge and intentional interference with a contract, alleging they were fired because they knew of the CEO’s drug use and if they reported it, they’d appear to be retaliating against their terminations.
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Was CU Times correct in reporting on the lawsuit? Absolutely. The lawsuit is public information, so it was already in the open, and the publication—with a healthy dose of the term allegedly—has the duty to report facts that could affect the greater credit union community. If true, cocaine use could impede the ability to make responsible decisions about the credit union, and that’s important for the credit union employees, members and business partners to know. The CEO was contacted for comment and maintained her innocence, responding to some but not all questions. That’s her prerogative and probably wise. Followed up properly, this story can educate boards and others on how to handle a similar situation from various perspectives, including hiring, policies on treatment of whistleblowers and of the accused who is innocent until proven guilty, and internal and external crisis communications.
Journalism is a very difficult job. A story CU Times reported during my tenure harpooned the career of a friend, but it’s the job, and you have a responsibility to your own integrity, your family, the company, the audience and advertisers. You just have to decide how you can sleep at night.
Matt Davis, gameFI
Bank bashing is a favorite pastime in credit unions. Like most us-versus-them posturing, the practice is riddled with hypocrisy, hyperbole and misinformation. Take a recent example. Bank of America, we are told, is ‘ending free checking accounts.’ ‘Bank of America hates poor people,’ we say. It doesn't take much deep thinking to see what's actually happening. Free checking is a loss-leader product justified only by the promise that account holders will provide interest and noninterest income through the relationship. With the CFPB watching over big banks' shoulders and criticizing any attempt to turn a profit, especially from low-income customers, these institutions are left to choose: In the current regulatory environment, can we continue to offer free checking accounts? Bank of America's response: not if we can't have at least $250 in monthly direct deposit and $1,500 in average daily balance. While we can certainly debate those thresholds (and the $12/month fee for customers not meeting them), ostracizing for-profit entities for trying to earn a profit makes little sense. Worse, it opens up a conversation about credit union practices. Does your credit union earn $144/year in margin from low-balance members?
When credit unions point fingers at banks for things like excessive executive compensation, misleading marketing, lavish travel/training budgets, or contributions to the financial crisis, it begs the question: What's happening in our backyard? The existence of misdeeds by (some) banks is not fake news, but the blindness and hypocrisy we show toward credit unions’ wrongdoing certainly is.
Randy Smith, CUinsight
Coming up with strong headlines has always been an important skill in PR and journalism. With the human attention span now less than a goldfish, the old journalism adage that you must grab the reader straight away has never been more true. If you don’t grab their attention with your headline all that great content is unlikely to be read.
The online-news world took that to the next level and turned it into an art form in which headlines are misleading or sensationalized to inspire the reader to click. The word synonymous with this practice is clickbait. This has led to ‘fake news’ in politics, entertainment, and credit unions as well.
Some struggles facing the PR/news environment today are: 1) How do you get your content viewed while not sensationalizing it to the point that the reader is left disappointed after they click, and 2) How do you deliver fact-based content in a world that is more concerned with soundbites and an easily a repeatable story that backs up their personal point of view?
The how and where you deliver your message also matters. One size does not fit all, and a title that works well on a website or print page may not work as well on Facebook or Twitter mixed in with all the headlines outside of the credit union world. Has good headline writing now been grouped in with fake news and clickbait? Or is there still a place for a well-crafted headline?
Stay tuned for this discussion and more during the Underground Collision, Feb. 25, in Washington, DC. We hope to see you there!