|November 21, 2011|
|PRSA Press Boycott Raises Basic Questions|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|PR Society of America is introducing new definitions of who is a reporter and what is meant by “information” in waging its battle against the O’Dwyer Co.|
It is arguing that this writer cannot be a “reporter” because I am “a publisher and salesman” and that while it supports the “free flow of information,” that information has to be “accurate and truthful.”
Publisher/editors are common in media and all bloggers have both duties (if they want to eat). Many bloggers are heads of PR firms who are also functioning as “citizen journalists.”
How can “information” not be accurate and truthful, is our question? It wouldn’t be information if it were false. The Society uses accurate and truthful as “weasel words” to block the flow of information it dislikes.
It should adopt the definition of truth used in court: “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” PR’s mission is often telling the positive side of a story while leaving out other elements.
PRS, under advice from Venable, 500-lawyer D.C.-based firm, conducts a “slash & burn” legal-type offensive against anyone who dares criticize it.
The O’Dwyer Co. and other critics are hit with a barrage of charges including unethical behavior, “extortion,” violations of the Code of the Society of Professional Journalists, and lack of knowledge of the issues (“You seem to have missed my point,” posted VP-Arthur Yann to blogger Lucy Siegel).
'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' Photo
Society Fears Lawsuit
Yann and the Society have doubts about this slam-bang approach as embodied in the 23 pages of charges against this writer that PRS has circulated far and wide.
Yann admits in a posting on PRSAY that the Society was afraid to publish the 23 pages itself because of a possible defamation lawsuit by this writer.
Sending the 23 pages “privately to Mr. O’Dwyer and challenging him to make it public protects PRSA against possible legal action,” he wrote, adding: “While we’re certain there’s no merit to such a suit (we’ve simply used Mr. O’Dwyer’s own words and actions against him), frivolous lawsuits are filed in this country every day, and we’d prefer to avoid that distraction.” That comment is the eighth of 18 postings in the PRSAY dialogue that started Oct. 26 and was shut down Nov. 1 after this writer posted one of numerous corrections that are needed. Usual web practice is to let such dialogues run indefinitely.
PRS and Yann are wildly swinging the legal axe and they could end up inflicting a severe wound on their own selves. The 23 pages, the comments in postings on the PRS website Oct. 26 (referenced above), and the Oct. 19 “Newsroom” posting about the National Press Club’s request for PRS to drop the O’Dwyer boycott, contain numerous false and defamatory statements.
NPC Statement Is Misrepresented
The Oct. 19 statement, which led the opening “What’s New” section of the Society’s website from Oct. 19 to Nov. 18, misrepresents what NPC said in the release it sent Oct. 19 to 390 major media with bureaus in D.C.
PRS is obviously worried about the NPC’s stance and has done what it can to undermine NPC’s action.
The Oct. 19 Yann statement says, “And in its own statement, the NPC could not help but concede that many of Mr. O’Dwyer’s actions are ‘unfortunate’ and ‘even highly disagreeable.’ It strikes us as ironic that NPC would question PRSA’s actions, while at the same time excusing Mr. O’Dwyer’s.”
NPC did not “concede” anything about PRS’s charges against us. The sentence by Executive Director William McCarren says, “While we find many of the points in the letter unfortunate and even highly disagreeable, we do not think they constitute a reason to ban a reporter who has been allowed access for 40 years.”
McCarren is not “conceding” anything as claimed by Yann but is saying the “points” raised by Yann are “unfortunate” and “disagreeable.”
This writer in a phone conversation and in e-mails to McCarren challenged all the major points in the 23-pages. He decided to take no position except that the charges are “unfortunate” and “disagreeable.” They’re all false and twisted just like Yann’s interpretation of what was in the NPC statement.
Moses & Singer Misled PRS in 1990s
The Society is again following legal advice when it needs PR advice. It has never employed a PR firm.
The Moses & Singer law firm advised the same type of “take-no-prisoners” approach in the 1990s when PRS was caught red-handed selling copies of authors’ works by the hundreds of thousands in 1994.
M&S told PRS it could beat the rap and never pay the authors a nickel by challenging them to file a lawsuit. It worked because legal advice a dozen authors obtained was that a lawsuit would cost hundreds of thousands and copyright law was “murky.” The authors could also count on being countersued individually.
That was a Pyrrhric victory for PRS because it lost the right ever to lecture to anyone about ethics.
PRS leaders do so all the time and especially this year but this makes them hypocrites. Some day a PRS board will take responsibility for the massive intellectual theft it committed from at least 1980 to 1994. The PRS Code says “Ethical practice is the most important obligation” of a member but PRS doesn’t put its money where its mouth is. Spending on ethics totaled $2,649 in 2010 and $2,891 in 2009 which is 0.002% of total spending of $10 million. It is the smallest item in the budget.
Legal swords are brandished and waved around threateningly by PRS. It has accused this writer of breaking the law at least a dozen times.
Members Covered Conference Calls
Supposedly, I “hacked” into teleconferences although I was blocked from doing that by the service hosting the calls. “Hacking” means invading private telephone calls, not listening to newsworthy teleconferences involving a potential audience of 500 or more that should be open to all PR people.
The block did not work. There was no need for me to personally audit the calls. Members gave the O’Dwyer Co. extensive coverage of at least a dozen PRS teleconferences including the one Sept. 14 where leaders threatened to cancel the in-person Assembly if a $30 dues hike was not passed.
Another “crime” I supposedly committed was investigating the minor children of leaders.
Mike Cherenson, 2009 chair, mentioned his three children (9, 7 and 4) in interviews with other PR media, as well as his twin sister and his father, and otherwise portrayed himself as a model father and husband, telling how he helped to form a lacrosse league in New Jersey.
When I asked him why he never mentioned his wife, Gail, whom I met once at a PRS conference, he claimed I was harassing him. The children were not mentioned in any stories.
The biography of Rosanna Fiske, 2011 chair, mentions her famous photographer father. Her application for nomination for chair mentioned she had donated a sum of money to the school.
When I asked Fiske in an e-mail the name of her father and how much she donated, I got hit with charges of harassment-- that I sought “information about her personal finances, family (grandfather, father and minor children) and maiden name.” Harassment is a crime punishable by jail and fines.
Cherenson and Fiske are the ones who bought up these subjects, not me.
New Pressures on Journalism
Journalists are already under enough pressures without PRS telling its 31,000 regular and student members that the way to deal with critical reporters is to ban them and then defame them.
Newspaper ad revenues sank from $49.4 billion in 2005 (after being $40B+ since 1997) to $25.8B in 2010, a decline of $24.6 billion, according to the Newspaper Assn. of America. National ads fell from $8B to $4.2B; classified from $16.6B to $5.6B and retail ads from $22B to $12.9B. Web ads are up to $3B from $1.54B but that’s still small potatoes.
The $24.6B decline represents a lot of editorial posts. Had newspapers maintained their $49B ad sales rate since 2004, they would have had $62B more in revenues.
Circulation peaked at 62 million in 1990 and was 46.8 million in 2009.
Some PR pros are exultant at the decline in traditional media, almost giddy that then can now contact consumers directly without pesky reporters being in the way.
It is Not a Crime to Cover PRS
A Bill of Rights is needed for reporters covering PRS.
The Society must stop charging any of them with crimes such as “hacking,” “harassment,” “eavesdropping.” “invasion of privacy,” “falsely characterizing professional credentials,” or “interfering with the employment and educational relationships of leaders.”
It must abandon the claim that it’s “private” because if it were private it would not have to file public 990 financial forms with the IRS. It also cannot be private when its slogan is “Advancing the Profession and the Professional.” It can’t claim to speak for the entire industry but only be answerable to itself.
Reporters should be able to join PRS and have access to all activities and reports. Blocking access to financial documents in the “Newsroom” must be stopped.
The Assembly and sessions at the national conference should be open to reporters from established media. No meals need be provided.
The restrictive “Media Policy” in the Newsroom must be removed. Demanding that all press contacts with members and officers be cleared with Yann or his staff flies in the face of the Society’s promise to advance the free flow of information. PRS must stop trying to limit what is “information” and adopt the legal standard of truth, i.e., “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Yann and his staff should respond to all questions by reporters or members and abandon the policy of non-response.
Transcripts of the Assembly should be reinstituted so what goes on each year at PRS’s governing body can be studied by members, the press and PR academics.
Attention of J Groups, Individuals South
This website is asking the following journalist groups and prominent journalists to take a look at the PRS boycott and assess its effect on press/PR dealings nationwide.
--Society of Professional Journalists, John Ensslin, president
--ProPublica, Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief
--Assn. for Education in Journalism and Mass Comms., Linda Steiner Univ. of Maryland, president
--Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Center, Tom Rosenstiel, director
--Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bill Kovach, chair; Tom Rosenstiel, vice chair
--Poynter Institute, Karen Dunlap, president
--Committee to Protect Journalists, Sandra Mims Rowe, chairwoman, journalism ethics professor, Arizona State Univ.
--Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, John Henry, chair, former news editor, AP; Lucy Dalglish, executive dir.
--John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, funders of Committee of Concerned Journalists, Alberto Ibarguen, president/CEO
--Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, Univ. of Missouri, Dean Mills, advisor
--Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Oklahoma City, Nancy Hodgkinson, senior program officer
--Boston University, William McKeen, chair, Dept. of Journalism; T. Barton Carter, chair, Dept. of Mass. Comm.
Return to Latest News