This top 10 list of media errors of 2011 shows that even the biggest companies and celebrities can stumble. While some became the victims of unforseen problems, others managed to make their own big mistakes, due to lack of judgment.
Oprah Winfrey is mortal after all. That's the media lesson learned from her decision to give up her syndicated daily talk show, which dominated the Nielsen ratings for 25 years. In return, she's leading her struggling Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable TV channel. To top it off, Lady Gaga now tops Winfrey in media, according to Forbes magazine. That shows the new generation isn't following Winfrey as closely as older viewers. At the same time, those older viewers who were used to seeing Winfrey on their familiar local stations are not willing to journey to some distant cable channel just to catch her.
A single interview on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends wiped away decades of Hank Williams Jr. singing the opening theme song of Monday Night Football. The interview was bizarre from the start. Fox invited Williams to be interviewed about the 2012 presidential race. Williams is a country music singer, not a professional political analyst. But he does have strong opinions, which made for a candid interview in which Williams compared a golf game between President Obama and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to a round between Adolf Hitler and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When some were offended at the remarks, ESPN was in a difficult spot regarding MNF. It ended its relationship with Williams, although he maintains he was the one who pulled the song from the broadcasts.
You can see guys in public without their shirts, so it wouldn't seem that a shirtless photo of U.S. Rep. Christopher Lee (R-NY) on the web would be any big deal. But when reports came out accusing him of sending the photo to a woman he met through Craigslist, it brought the end to his Congressional career. Lee is married with a son. For people in politics, this story shows that any sort of media scandal can be career suicide, even if no laws are broken.
Amazingly, a second New York Congressman also resigned over Internet photos. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) admitted sending a lewd Twitter photo of himself to a woman and lying about it. At first, he refused to resign. But key Democrats on Capitol Hill did not rush to his side to support the married lawmaker when accusations of electronic relationships surfaced. At the same time, his conduct and last name made for Weiner jokes for late-night TV comedians and even New York newspapers produced wisecracking headlines that sealed his fate. But it also got people talking about whether online contact should be considered adultry.
Beyonce Knowles was apparently only trying to make a fashion statement when she appeared in blackface in a French magazine. But instead she raised questions about racism, even though she is black herself. In a similar incident, ESPN The Magazine was blasted for turning NFL quarterback Michael Vick's skin white for editorial reasons. Never has makeup made such a commentary on race relations in our society. On the flip side, Newsweek took heat for a cover photo of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann with a somewhat crazed stare. It wasn't accused of distorting reality, but purposely using an unflattering photo. The ethics of magazine photo manipulation requires editors to walk a fine line while making a profound statement that is also inoffensive.
This is a news media error no one should ever make. National Public Radio mistakenly reported that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords died after being shot in the Tucson, Arizona, shooting rampage. NPR said it had used information from two sources who both turned out to be wrong. While others made the same mistake, NPR is not usually part of the competition involving commercial media, which battle to be first on the air with breaking news coverage.
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has a media empire which spans the globe. For years, that had many people thinking he was immune from common newsroom issues. But a phone-hacking scandal at his News of the World tabloid newspaper in Great Britain led to its shutdown. The paper had more than two million readers, making it the biggest Sunday paper in the U.K., so it was no easy decision for Murdoch to stop the presses. While he wanted to protect his other business interests, protests against him grew bizzare. It was difficult for the news media to cover the scandal, because News Corp. owns Fox News Channel. Competitors could have been accused of overblowing the story, while Fox could be blamed for doing the opposite.
Twitter's 140-character limit still provides enough space to create public relations headaches. Just ask the NBC and CBS news divisions. NBC fell victim to a hacker, who posted a tweet on the NBC News account that falsely reported an airliner had crashed at Ground Zero in New York City. The FBI is investigating. That hacking came just weeks after Fox News Channel's Twitter feed was hacked to say President Obama had been assassinated. The U.S. Secret Service is on that case. Meanwhile, the CBSnews.com web show What's Trending had to apologize for an erroneous tweet that said Apple CEO Steve Jobs had died. At the time, Jobs was in poor health and died a few weeks later. While the cases are different, they show the need for any media company to manage its social media outlets carefully.
Sesame Street briefly became a part of TV's red-light district, due to hackers. They were able to post pornography on the Sesame Street YouTube channel, giving children a lesson they didn't need to see. It was another example of how a powerful media brand can be victimized over the Internet. For any media company using social media or YouTube, you're depending on outsiders to control the security of your brand. Hackers often seek media companies because their misdeeds will generate more publicity when they strike well-known brands.
A series of questionable business decisions have cost Netflix thousands of customers and tarnished its brand image. A price hike started the trouble. Then came the launch of Quickster, which was to be the title of its DVD rental service. Quickster was quickly trashed, leaving customers more confused about the direction of the company than ever.