Analysis: why CAMRA’s apology tastes flat

I recently warned of some pitfalls to avoid when writing apologies.

Now another organisation has ended up in the spotlight. Derby’s CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) group got itself in trouble over a crossword puzzle.

Its bi-monthly magazine printed one with terms deemed racist and homophobic, and faced online criticism.

Derby drinker crossword

Colin Valentine, CAMRA’s national chairman apologised with a letter published on Twitter. Before we consider how he did, let’s remind ourselves of what an apology should and shouldn’t do. To work, it should:

  • Express remorse
  • Admit responsibility
  • Make amends
  • Promise it will never happen again.

And should not:

  • Use apologise or regret in place of sorry
  • Be conditional
  • Apologise for offence caused rather than behaviour
  • Try to make excuses
  • Have inappropriate formality
  • Apologise for trivial things.
The Apology

Derby apology 1

Two rules are broken at once: apologising for offence causedI apologise tends to be used when we’re not really sorry. Here it’s understandable as Mr Valentine is not saying sorry for something he’s done personally.

But he’s sorry for offence caused, not that it happened, and that weakens it.

Derby apology 2

The middle part underlines the virtuous, inclusive culture at CAMRA.

Derby apology 3

Now how about making amends and promising it won’t happen again? Mr Valentine is conditional. He only hints at how he will deal with his member’s errant behaviour. The final part of the letter promises to ‘proactively communicate’ their values, codes and charters.

The Verdict

CAMRA’s chairman shows he regrets what’s happened and the offence it’s caused, but his letter would benefit from being more direct. What he and real ale campaigners are going to do needs to be clearer. He does provide us with a further rule for the list: don’t over-signal your virtues.

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