Off the Record? Not Today

On January 24, 2011, a number of Toronto city police officers conducted a campus safety information session at York University’s Osgoode Hall. During the session, one of the officers suggested that a safety tip for women is to not “dress like sluts” if they wished to avoid sexual assault.

The next day an article appeared in Excalibur, York University’s community newspaper. The article quoted Ronda Bessner, assistant dean of York’s Juris Doctor Program (Osgoode Hall is York’s law school).

In the old days (i.e. pre-social media), the officer would have apologized and been reprimanded, and the story would have died. In the world of social media, the issue took on a life of its own, was bandied about in blogs, broke through the clutter, and became an international story three weeks later.

There are two lessons here. First, it is becoming more difficult for all journalists to break through the clutter, so their desire to do so will become increasingly more important than their desire to maintain a relationship with a single spokesperson—i.e. you.

Second, in an age where anyone with a smart phone can become a news photographer or anyone with a URL can become a blogger, poor decision-making and inappropriate behaviour have fewer and fewer places to hide.

We repeat: Nothing is ever off the record. Period.