|January 25, 2011|
|Press Bribery Book by PRSA Ph.D.'s Misses Point|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Two PR Ph.D.s, Dean Kruckeberg, co-chair of the PRSA Commission on PR Education and Katerina Tsetsura, a Society member and former Russian journalist, have written “Transparency, PR and Mass Media: Combating Media Bribery Worldwide.” |
This disingenuous and mischievous book, to be published in the spring by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, attacks an already-debilitated media. It’s pure spin in that it puts media on the defensive while deflecting attention away from the bribers.
This is the current PR wisdom—don’t defend, attack.
The book will not help media to become financially strong which is what is needed if media are to do independent reporting. We don’t doubt that bribery of journalists is flourishing worldwide. Reporters like to eat as much as anyone..
Media cannot exist on news reporting alone when there is so much free news and information on the web. What PR people should be doing is helping reporters to become businesspeople.
A good example is the Washington Post supporting itself via its Kaplan unit that is doing nearly $3 billion a year.
Fund-Raisers, Schools, “Sugar Daddies” Needed
PR pros can help media to develop major side sources of income that will support the news operation.
Organizations such as New York Women in Communications, the Institute for PR, the New York Financial Writers Assn., Overseas Press Club, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have banquets that have generated millions over the years.
Both NYWICI and NYFWA raise about a half million yearly with their “Matrix Awards” and “Financial Follies,” respectively; The CPJ raised $1.75M at its Nov. 23, 2010 black-tie banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Helping the IPR is its $350-a-plate dinner at the Yale Club each year.
The formula is pretty simple. Get some stars and charge $400 (or a lot more) for seats. Newspapers and others could put on such shows. It takes some creativity.
Start Writing School
Who knows more about writing than staffers at a local paper? Newspapers could have Kaplan-like wings that teach writing and possibly a lot of other things. The public would understand that reporting needs support by other activities.
Newspapers also have large databases about local businesses, legislation affecting businesses and instructional topics and could package this for sale to the business community and public at large.
Reporters are “educators” although they mostly do this through their articles. They have to learn to do in-person education.
CPJ banquet Nov. 23, 2010.
Anyone who has been able to land a job on a major newspaper or magazine and keep that job has shown a high degree of intelligence and has proven his or her communications skills.
These need to be employed in many new ways. PR people can help writers to think of themselves as businesspeople. If they are not successful in business, they won’t be able to use their writing skills.
Get 'Sugar Daddy' Like ProPublica Did
There are plenty of multi-millionaires and even billionaires who would like to invest their money in a worthwhile cause.
Media have to talk them into supporting the free press as one of the noblest of all the causes—the one profession that keeps the other professions clean (or tries to).
Perfect example is ProPublica, investigative unit that has obtained more than $10 million from Herbert and Marion Sandler. Never mind that the money is tainted because the Sandlers made $2.4B by dumping Golden West Financial on Wachovia Bank in 2006.
Wachovia soon discovered a huge pile of bad loans that forced an almost immediate “fire sale” to Wells Fargo.
You won’t find anyone at ProPublica taking bribes—not with their salaries. Editor-in-chief Paul Steiger, who has served for several years as chair of CPJ, is paid $570K annually and managing editor Stephen Engelberg got $451,972 in 2008.
Engelberg’s pay included about $125,000 for “moving expenses.”
Richard Toffel, treasurer and secretary, pulled down $296K
The top eight employees listed on the 2008 IRS Form 990 were paid $2,049,935 and salaries were said to be level for 2008-2010 (about $6M in three years).
Dan Gillmor of mediactive.com said such salaries are far beyond what a small non-profit like ProPublica should be paying and that they “detract from the mission” of ProPublica.
Journalists should go after some of that dough themselves. Become salespeople. Attend those charity balls and other events and rub elbows with the rich and powerful.
PR Will “Clean Up” News?!
A 24-page report on the work of Kruckeberg, Tsetsura and others, written by Bill Ristow, formerly of the Seattle Times and now a “journalist trainer,” praises PR pros for bringing up the subject of bribery of reporters and says “PR people have worked with their journalist counterparts to clean up the business of news.”
Ristow, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), TRACE International, which helps companies deal with corruption, and others mentioned in the 24-page report should take a close look at the PR Society, which now says it wants to help news media.
NED has its critics. A creation of the Reagan Administration in 1983 and given about $135M yearly by the government, it has been accused of meddling in the affairs of foreign countries.
The website International Endowment for Democracy says NED, under the guise of “spreading democracy,” has used funds for “everything from manipulating elections to coordinating coups.”
PR Society Sold Authors’ Articles
PRSA is the same group that ripped off writers and reporters from 1980 to 1994, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their articles not to mention whole chapters of their books without permission.
The Society wouldn’t even talk to the authors much less pay them a nickel. Its unbending position left only the alternative of a long and costly lawsuit which the authors rejected. But the debt to them still remains.
PRSA’s restrictive press policies included forbidding any recording or photographs at its 2010 Assembly, one of the most important in its history because of the move to let non-APRs on the board after 35 years.
O’Dwyer Co. staffers, for no good reason, were told they had to pay a total of $3,825 if they wanted to cover the 2010 conference although other trade press went free.
An Assembly delegate shouted obscenities at this reporter in front of the Washington Hilton and repeated threats of bodily harm in a letter to us.
Kruckeberg and Tsetsura should come to our offices and review the box of copied articles as well as the financial reports of the Society that showed it was netting about $60,000 a year from the sale of the copied articles.
This practice, although the Society claimed it was legal, was halted as soon as it was outed by the O’Dwyer Co. in 1994.
PR Can Help Media
PR pros can help media do their job by taking press calls and answering questions of reporters; by making their CEOs and other officials available for interviews; by staging press conferences where questions and answers are in the open, and by subscribing to the trade and general press that covers them.
They need to work with media on money-making ideas that are not in conflict with the news part of the operation.
Reporters are having a hard time adjusting to the realities of running a business.
One casualty was the Washington Independent, the non-profit investigative website headed by Aaron Wiener. It closed in November after three-years because Foundation support “dried up.”
Does PRS Promote Independent Media?
The claim of the Kruckeberg/Tsetsura book—that PR people want to strengthen independent media—has to be seen against the backdrop of the Society’s own publishing activities that make it hard for independent PR media to survive.
PRSA’s 21,000 members pay for the monthly Tactics and quarterly Strategist as part of their $225 dues and are therefore not good prospects for buying other PR media.
PR Reporter, a weekly that focused on research, and PR Quarterly, which was an outlet for essays by PR professors and PR pros, both died in their 50th years last year.
Haymarket, the biggest private publisher in the U.K., started PR Week/U.S. in 1998 partly at the urging of Society leader John Beardsley and COO Ray Gaulke, who went to London twice to urge PRW to enter the U.S. market. After 12 years here, PRW/U.S.’s paid/requested circulation averaged 5,738 as of Sept. 30, 2010 vs. 6,155 in the previous 12 months. It went to monthly publication in June, 2009.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor reports 240,000 “PR specialists” as of 2008.
Haymarket should have insisted that PRSA drop its own two publications before PRW/U.S. was launched.
The Society, which complained about the printing/postage costs of its members’ directory and cancelled it, should switch T&S to online-only and offer the members’ directory as a PDF.
That is something members would vote overwhelmingly for if they had the chance to do this.
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