Perception: Kent State and Swine Flu

Gee, what happened to my proclamation of a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” weekend? I leave the conn of my digital communications empire for a day and we have a riot in Kent, Ohio, and the spread of swine flu. Don’t you long for the good old days when all we had to worry about was $4-a-gallon gasoline?

What’s this have to do with communication — and perception? Well, a lot, actually.

The Saturday night riot in Kent — off-campus as best I can tell — serves to reinforce what Kent State University is best known for: events that led to the killing of four students on campus May 4, 1970.  And no amount of crisis management or communications (or marketing dollars) works here since the perception about Kent State is too firmly entrenched. That’s why this incident gains national and even international attention way beyond what it merits in terms of news.

It even made The Huffington Post with this as the key graph:

It was the first violent clash between Kent State students and police in years. In 1970, four Kent State students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest of the invasion of Cambodia.

C’mon. Give us a break. What does the university say or do to get beyond that last sentence?

By the way, Bill Sledzik on his ToughSledding blog has an interesting take on how this story was covered by student journalists and via Twitter.

Then there is the outbreak of swine flu. Good grief. I’m still sick from the vaccine I took for the swine flu scare in the mid-1970s. But here’s reality.

Post-Katrina and post-9/11, our goverment leaders have to react — and react quickly and decisively — to these type of situations. That’s why the United States declared a “public health emergency.” And now the government — and public health officials — are faced with one of the most difficult communications challenges: defining and explaining in a thoughtful way just how much risk there actually is or could be.

I’m scheduled to fly to DC next week on a Continental shuttle out of Cleveland. Oh boy. Sure hope the person next to me is sneezing and coughing.

Don’t worry, be happy. Ugh. It’s Monday.

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3 responses to “Perception: Kent State and Swine Flu

  1. Maybe it’s a Northeast Ohio curse, Rob. Kent State has May 4th, Cleveland has the burning river. Since both happened around 40 years ago, you’d think we’d get past it. But perceptions die hard.

    I should also add that both of those events are more recent than Cleveland’s last sports championship. Maybe, just maybe, if we could win a World Series. Hope springs eternal.

    • Let’s hope we don’t have an encore this weekend in Kent. Better to drink beer/wine and think happy thoughts about the Indians. And the Cavs.

  2. KSU’s perception will never die because the university brings it back up every May 4.
    They tried to get rid of the stigma several years ago by calling themselves “Kent” rather than “Kent State.” But that didn’t work.
    Until KSU can go from May 3 to May 5 and not do anything different on May 4, it’s not going away.

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