On January 21 around 8:30 p.m., reports began surfacing that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had passed away. It started when Penn State’s online news organization, Onward State, posted to its
Twitter account, “Our sources can now confirm: Joseph Vincent Paterno has passed away tonight at the age of 85.”
The news was quickly picked up locally and nationally by other outlets, including CBS Sports, which tweeted the story and published an obituary of Paterno without attribution.
Around 9 p.m. that same night, a Paterno family spokesman made clear that the rumors around Paterno’s death were “absolutely not true.” Onward State and CBS Sports both made official retractions immediately following the family’s announcement Saturday night, but Onward State took it one step further.
At just 21 years old, Onward State Managing Editor Devon Edwards possessed the maturity to understand that a simple retraction was not enough. He published a personal apology letter on the publication’s website and Facebook page that is both well-written and genuine. The letter works because it is heartfelt, and he did not make excuses or place blame.
We can all learn something from Edwards. Thanks to social media tools like Twitter, every day brings headlines about crises, most of which immediately go viral. As professional communicators, we need to be as transparent as Devon Edwards in all of our communications–especially our apologies–in order to be effective.