When is too much of a good thing no longer good?
Transparency clearly is a communications virtue. So is reader/user participation. There is great power in providing an audience with clear insights into difficult issues, as well as in encouraging audience participation in finding solutions and in guiding content development. These actions foster audience engagement which greatly improves both acceptance of the message as well as the quality of the message itself as we tap into the collective wisdom of the audience at large.
But that doesn't mean that more transparency is always better.
The Chicago Tribune recently launched an ill-fated project to solicit responses from subscribers to sketches of stories as reporters were still fleshing out story details. The idea was to tap into the power of open-sourcing for additional leads as well as to grow reader appetite for an upcoming story or series.
But soon after the experiment was kicked off, dozens of reporters signed a letter to the Tribune's editor, Gerould Kern, urging him to pull the plug on the idea. They were concerned that teasing stories before all the facts were in might, in fact, recklessly spread ill-founded rumors.
"We stopped this," Kern was quoted in a susequent Tribune story. "To prematurely disseminate information about stories in progress compromises reporting (including) potential legal issues, fairness, accuracy and completeness."
The project also raised the specter of news judgments being made by opinion poll, an abdication of editors' responsibility. "Journalists make decisions about news play. We're not taking a marketing survey ... and saying 'OK, this goes on Page One,'" Kern said.
It's safe to say that few corporate communications functions are likely to tilt so far in favor of transparency to require a corrective reaction. Most companies could continue to benefit from far more openness in their communications. And open-sourcing for idea-generation and best-practice sharing can greatly enhance the power of company intranets. But it is also useful for us advocates of transparency to take note of the danger of going too far, too fast.
- Jon Harmon