It’s been the year of the apology. Or as the Romans might have called it, annus sorrybilis. A year when an apology has become the favourite escape route in a crisis. A year when it has dawned on those at the centre of a crisis or failure that undergoing the fleeting pain of saying sorry will get them off the hook.
Whether it is a failing hospital, a developing domestic tragedy unnoticed by officials or a failure of customer service, the same formula is used over and over again. “We have failed the public/our clients/our customers. We will be conducting a robust and rigorous review. We must now take stock, learn the lessons, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Sounds familiar?
Too often, for a variety of reasons such as pressure of time and space, or lack of resources, that is enough to satisfy the media. Too often the follow-up questions are left unasked, or asked but then left on the cutting-room floor. Questions like – what exactly went wrong? Who was responsible? Who will be disciplined as a result of this failing? What has been done, or is being done, to prevent it happening again? Questions which would help to reveal whether the apology is empty words or a commitment to improve.
So how about a New Year’s resolution for reporters – “I will no longer accept a ‘sorry’ soundbite as the end of the story”?