|June 6, 2011|
|Abramson: Show Your Mettle By Covering PR|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Jill Abramson will take over Sept. 6 as the first woman editor of the New York Times in 160 years.|
This is an open letter to her as well as PR pros everywhere.
Congratulations on your appointment! You are taking on a big job and one that requires courage and avoiding communications politics.
Your paper has suffered under the lash of the internet and the shift of ads from daily newspapers to TV and the web. Newspaper ads fell from a high of $49 billion in 2003 to $22B by 2009 while TV ads grew from $52B in 2000 to $65B in 2010 and web ads rose from $7B to $35B.
Magazine ads dipped but recouped to around $20B.
NYT weekday circulation fell 20% to 906,000 from 2003 to 2010 while ads fell 38% to $1.3M and NYT stock plunged from $45 to about $8. Debt is $998M vs. revenues of $2.37B.
The ad/PR conglomerates have centralized media buying in a few hands who can decide which media will live and which will die. They have obviously put daily newspapers on the “Do Not Resuscitate” list.
John Sullivan, who has written many articles for NYT, painted the above grim picture for newspapers in an article for ProPublica headlined, “PR Fills ‘Vacuum’ Left by Shrinking Newsrooms.” PR pros outnumber reporters by nearly five-to-one (240,000 to 49,000) according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
Almost wherever a reporter turns these days, there is a PR person standing guard.
Despite PR’s influence on the flow of news, information and access to newsmakers, the NYT has avoided this subject for decades.
You Will Face Criticism
Critics are already on your case, noting you lack the usual grounding in international and that you may be a case of the NYT “riding the diversity wagon,” as the New York Post said June 3.
Your series of columns in 2009 comparing bringing up a puppy with bringing up a baby will open you to criticism. “The Puppy Diaries,” in which you wrote about “that soft fur, those floppy ears,” and tracked your new dog through “puppy kindergarten” and being an “adolescent,” was a switch from the serious reporting you did in nine years at the Wall Street Journal.
New York magazine, in an extensive examination of your career on Sept. 26, 2010, named you as the “front runner” to succeed Keller in 2011.
PR Seminar Starts Meeting Today
By coincidence, this is the first day of the annual meeting of PR Seminar, the gathering of about 150 PR executives of blue chips who craft corporate PR and advertising policy nationwide.
Media chieftains and editors typically address this group whose members control much corporate advertising.
The meeting, steeped in secrecy, sends the wrong message to the entire communications industry.
Participants are supposed to be experts at press relations. What they’re expert at is dodging and/or manipulating the press.
Helping them in this is none other than NYT. I hope you will crack this wall of secrecy.
NYT writers and editors have been going to Seminar since the 1970s but have never written a word about it.
A.H. Raskin, longtime labor columnist and editorial writer for NYT, spoke to it in 1973 on changing conditions for unions. Raskin, brushing aside PRS’s secrecy edict, took our phone call and recapped his speech for this reporter. He saw the need for off-the-record discussions but said most speakers would not mind supplying a summary of their talks to the press.
The Business Roundtable’s annual meeting long ago made its “peace” with the press. Sessions were confidential but speakers could be interviewed after the meetings.
Big press has allowed Seminar to get away with its secrecy for too long. About ten articles of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics are violated.
Reston, Geddes, Schwartz at PRS
Other NYT writers at PRS included columnist James “Scotty” Reston, who in 1975 praised President Ford for his “warmth, candor and accessibility”; editorial board member Dr. Harry Schwartz, addressing the 1984 meeting, and John Geddes, talking to PRS in 1996 on “The Future of Print Journalism.”
Geddes, 59, who was NYT financial editor when he spoke to PRS, will continue as managing editor for news operations, said the NYT story on Abramson’s appointment.
Other media figures speaking and hobnobbing for up to four days with PR VPs (golf, tennis, sailing, riding, etc.) were George Will, then a Newsweek columnist (1976); Ralph Graves, editorial director of Time Inc. (1981); Washington Post columnist David Broder (1981), and Paul Steiger, then managing editor, Wall Street Journal, who addressed the 1995 meeting. He now heads ProPublica where his annual salary is $570K. The WSJ has never mentioned the existence of PRS.
ProPublica’s Amanda Michel and National Public Radio’s Matt Thompson spoke to PRS last year.
NYT, Forbes PR Heads Attended
Regulars at PRS for many years were Catherine Mathis, who headed NYT PR from 1997-2009, and Monie Begley Feurey, SVP of corporate communications of Forbes.
Jolie Hunt, global head of communications, Thomson Reuters, attended in 2008 but not 2009 and 2010.
The New York Observer’s John Koblin wrote March 9, 2009 that Mathis led PR during the paper’s “most tumultuous period” (Jason Blair scandal, Judith Miller controversy, internet impact, etc.) and was noted for being distant with reporters inside and outside of the paper.
Bob Christie, recruited from WSJ to replace Mathis in 2009, was “well known and well liked within the WSJ newsroom,” wrote Koblin, but “the same could not be said of Mathis, whom reporters and editors seemed to know in passing.”
Mathis told a press conference in 2008 that she was working on what “a charm offensive” with the press including Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff.
Wolff told Koblin he had barely heard from her. Mathis joined Standard & Poor’s as SVP, marketing and communications.
Christie recruited Danielle Rhoades-Ha from Dow Jones to head editorial PR. Christie also hired Goodman Media, which had worked for DJ/WSJ when Christie was there.
Another DJ recruit was former DJ freelancer Stephanie Yera. Others moving from WSJ to NYT were reporters Peter Lattman and Susanne Craig.
Koblin said Christie was “poaching from his old PR team” and that NYT seemed to be winning the “battle over publicity staff.”
Your PR Staff Is in a Bunker
I hope you will look at your own PR staff which is about as hidden as any corporate PR dept.
A search in the “Contact Us” part of your website reveals no names under “public relations.” Where are Christie, Rhoades-Ha, Yera and other staffers? Searching for them by name also finds nothing. Staffers are listed under nytco.com but they should also be listed under nytimes.com.
NYT is currently skipping two huge stories—the rape charges against three Florida Int’l University students and evidence of holes in PR’s No. 1 crisis success story—J&J’s handling of the Tylenol murders in 1982.
NYT sent a reportorial armada to cover the rape charges against three Duke students in 2006 but so far has only run two graphs about the FIU rape charges. Both of them were lifted from AP stories. There is far more evidence in the FIU rape charges than in the Duke charges including a 20-minute video involving the principals.
The two young women have now testified under oath about the sex they had with the men, saying they were asked to leave after an hour and their belongings were tossed into the hall after them. Each woman had had at least three alcoholic drinks. The alleged rapes occured at the Atlantis, one of NYT’s biggest advertisers. Illegal underage drinking may have taken place.
I called Christie to ask why this story wasn’t being covered. He wouldn’t come to the phone. A PR assistant, who had only been at the NYT two months, then called and asked me what I was calling about. I told her. No return call ever came back.
Bartz Charges Media Conspiracy
A book being written by former J&J employee Scott Bartz says there are credible indications that Tylenol capsules were poisoned from within the company and not by some “mad person” putting poisoned bottles in numerous stores.
Not only is J&J faulted, but major media such as NYT, the Economist, Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times and Fortune for repeating endlessly that J&J acted “quickly” in 1982 in pulling Tylenols off shelves nationwide.
Five days is not “quick” and the initial recall was for two small lots distributed in the Chicago area, Bartz says.
Two PR profs say Tylenol should never have been sold in easily spiked capsules and definitely not after seven murders. “Tamper-resistant” packaging did not address the possibility that capsules could be doctored after the package was opened.
NYT should also be looking into the quest of the Committee for a Democratic PR Society of America, which garnered 450 signatures last year in a thus far futile effort to curb governance abuses, and the revolt at the International PR Assn. which has resulted in the resignations of veteran board members who are protesting, among other things, the abolition of the governing Council without seeking the Council’s permission.
IPRA has many U.S. members and is the No. 1 international PR group. Membership once totaled 1,000.
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