Why Today I would rather be Eric Schmidt than Rupert Murdoch: a Snapshot of Reputational Issues in the FT Weekend Reply


A buffet of interesting, yet unfortunate, reputational challenges filled today’s FT Weekend.  What points-for-reflection can professional communicators take away current events?

  • Reputation within the context of poverty versus abundance.  For the last couple hundred years, hidden away from British colonists and later to be essentially forgotten, a wealth of treasure presently valued at $22 billion has been discovered in Kerala’s Sree Padmanabhasway Hindu temple.  People arguing over who gets to keep and presumably spend the wealth is not interesting.  We have always known greed is a deadly sin.  What I do find eye opening, given the recent tides in India, is the view that the government should stay away because people fear that corrupt officials will waste too much lining their pockets.  Recently yoga guru Baba Ramdev led protests against corruption and even embarked on a short-lived but highly sensational hunger strike for the same reason.   Add to this the widespread poverty, and the not-so-distance corruption in cricket, and we have what seems to be ample motivation for continuing to focus on corrupt practices and the government’s inability to act.

    People don’t want to give you access to $22 billion if they do not trust you.

  • Hackers, politicians, and media moguls in a dog-eat-dog world.  How far will British journalists go to break a story?  Apparently far enough to hack the phone and delete messages of a missing girl.  The consequences are a British PM delivering a mea culpa, Rupert Murdoch shutting down the News of the World, the PM’s former communication minister turning himself in to be arrested, and the whole world watching as Murdoch’s grip on British politics comes to light on the front page of global papers. Those in the business of reputation can also watch, according to Digger in a Hole, as business bows to reputational pressures and the sale of  British Sky Broadcasting faces intense governmental scrutiny, decreasing share prices, and once-close allies who are now calling for a change in media’s relationship with politicians. 

  • The Road Ahead May Move Us in Different Directions.  Maybe the most interesting insights come from Google’s New Wish List. Google’s longstanding contributions to philanthropy take a new twist with their think/do-tank.  Early efforts to partner with community activists and address hate issues (most certainly a good deed) were initially received with skepticism.  Paul Carrillo, a former gang member, asks in the article, “Why is Google doing this?  What is their vested interest?  Are they trying to take advantage of us?”  The fact that corporate efforts are viewed skeptically, again, is not terribly new or interesting.

    What I do find interesting is that Google, as a corporation, is taking a strong step toward dealing with important issues of the day–issues which reach far beyond the scope of what any government, NGO, or corporation can do alone.  Certainly far beyond the scope of Google’s business agenda.  According to Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    If you look at the role companies are playing in the world….these are corporations that have to be part of the solutions of most of the top problems that are on the [US] Secretary of State’s and President’s list.  Whether that is combating violent extremism, or climate change, or development of the global economy broadly, or global pandemics, those are not issues that can be solved only by governments….because they involve changing the individual behavior on the ground.  And who is on the ground?  Well, foundations and corporations.

So is Google on the leading edge of partnerships which do genuinely address major issues of the day?  Are they a corporation starting to lose sight of investors as they get whipped by Facebook in the social networking arena? Is this just opportunism and using people to look good?

Given the three options in today’s paper, I would side with Google any day.  Perhaps Google is on the front edge of changing expectations, and revision of the corporation’s role in society, which means that we should be thinking very hard about the reputational implications.  In other words, on this day in the FT Weekend I would much rather be Eric Schmidt than Rupert Murdoch.

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