Lots of PR and communications specialists (and MDs and CEOs) have far too rigid an idea of what constitutes a crisis. With the world moving at such a speed these days, it would help to be more open minded and recognise that things can flare up out of nowhere and cause serious problems if you’re unprepared.

A phenomenon I’ve noticed recently involves the ‘archive’ section of local newspapers.

This is a real growth area with sometimes as much as 2 full pages of my local weekly being devoted to ‘memory lane’. What started off as archive pictures of the high street in the 60s has developed into an entire feature with school sports day results from 15 years ago, a look at the hard news of the day and even local authority planning rows about proposed projects that never even saw the light of day.

Delving into the archive is popular and a sensible part of many newspapers’ strategies for survival in the digital age. It’s one advantage they have over the internet.

The problem is when readers don’t realise the story is old news. (Believe me, this happens more often than you might think). There’s also the issue that I might have missed something that happened 20 years ago but when I read about it today it still impacts on your reputation. Often these archive pieces are written in a very minimalist way due to space considerations, so we rarely get to see how the story played out over the longer term and quotes telling each side of the story rarely feature.

Here’s a quick example.

My local newspaper this week carries a story in its archive section about a football club failing to honour its promise to send one of its coaches to a child’s birthday party. There’s a picture of a disappointed kid, quotes from his heartbroken family and very little by way of an explanation from the football club itself.

Now, that’s hardly an earth-shattering crisis, but if the football club still offers that as a service, even though this one incidenct happened several years go, it’s still difficult not to be influenced by it.

What interests me is how much actual journalism is going on in the production of these archive features? Does someone simply go searching for interesting material, write a quick summary and stick it in? Or do they ask the family involved and the football club for permission or even let them know the story is going to run again?

It strikes me that there’s a need for these archive pages to be far more obvious and explicit than they are now and for more care to be taken when the stories are put together. We need more details in terms of how the story played out in the end, rather than simply the initial row. By all means, use the archive, but put some original journalism around it.

Above all, communications teams need to know that long forgotten troubles could rear their head again at any point and you might not get any warning about what’s coming. If you started getting questions about that day you let a customer down in 1986 how quickly could you deal with the matter and re-assure people you’ve come a long way since then?

And will newspapers do what they need to do in order to use their archive as a valuable asset without pissing off today’s readers and advertisers?

And if the Paisley Gazette ever publishes the picture of me on the podium after I won the 12 and Under 100 metres freestyle in 1990 I’ll be taking legal advice!

Categories: CrisisNews