|April 8, 2010|
|Info Hardware Good, But Can't Cure Secrecy|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The introduction of Apple's iPad April 2 is another giant step in putting more information in the hands of more people.|
Media are hailing it as close to the Second Coming ("laptop killer" suggests the Wall Street Journal, while Newsweek says "everything" is great about iPad).
Those who already have a laptop and smartphone might rebel at shelling out $500 to carry around a 1.5-pound tablet almost the size of Time mag.
We welcome all this informational hardware although some feel the Internet is
"destroying everything" including much of the media, encyclopedias, dictionaries, phone books, regular books and even libraries.
Anna Quindlen of Newsweek is hopeful, noting that TV did not replace radio, movies did not kill live theater and records did not end live music. She doubts Kindle will replace books.
We worry about the growing weakness of traditional media as revenues get squeezed by all the free news and information on the web.
Corporate, banking and Wall Street secrecy helped to bring the U.S. to its economic knees and we don’t see any web participants knocking down those closed doors.
It could be that a vast, interconnected web audience will develop that will become politically active and bring about change. President Obama developed such an audience when campaigning for president.
Pogue Is Not a Times Reporter
Reviewing iPad on page one for the New York Times was David Pogue, who should be identified as a contributing editor and not just given a byline that makes him look like an NYT staffer.
He was billed as a "New York Times columnist" when speaking at the Ragan Social Media Conference Feb. 23. That was wrong.
Rather, Pogue is a one-man industry who has sold millions of books about computers in his "For Dummies" series and “Missing Manual” line of 60 humorous computer books. He often reviews for pay some of the very products he is writing about, say critics.
There is extensive criticism of Pogue on the web which resulted in a column devoted to his alleged conflicts by NYT ombudsman Clark Hoyt.
Asked Matt Smith of the San Francisco Weekly: "If the NYT is so damned ethical, what’s up with payola-meister David Pogue?"
Pogue did a middle of the road review for the NYT, saying it's of no great help to techies but will be marvelous for the general public.
NYT is in an ethical bind in allowing Pogue to identify himself primarily as one of its columnists. The paper's ethical code bars its reporters from telling PR audiences how to deal with the media.
Pogue was also wrong at the Ragan conference in telling his audience that there are "no rules" in social media. There is one big rule that is stated in conference host Coca-Cola's SM ethics code and that is that anyone on SM who is being sponsored in any way must state this "at the outset."
Sadly, this advice is buried on page three of the Coke SM code.
Pogue told the Ragan audience that SM is mostly useful as a way to monitor candid comments of customers and that a full time staffer is needed to do this.
Information Roadblocks in PR Industry
Our concern is the industry we cover — PR — where we see an increasing amount of information roadblocks that no amount of tech wonders will cure.
Tech wonders, in fact, are ignored. Politics is supreme.
Since 2001, there have been no revenue or staff totals for what used to be 17 of the 25 largest PR operations in the O’Dwyer rankings.
Gone are overall totals, branch office and totals in12 specialties.
The independents are still reporting but the disappearance of so much data is harmful not only to the industry but to the PR units themselves.
Sarbanes-Oxley, cited by the ad conglomerates, does not block such basic data as staff counts and payroll totals. SOX was intended to increase communication, not block it.
PR groups including the PR Society, Publicity Club of New York, NIRI, Arthur Page Society, IABC, and many PRS chapters used to publish membership lists that were useful to reporters.
PRS in the early 2000’s gave out 150 membership directories a year to media.
All such lists are now online and available to members only. Contact points of reporters remain fully available.
Technology Ignored by PRS
Turning its back on many of the tech marvels is none other than the "largest organization of communications professionals in the world" — the PR Society.
It could easily and cheaply have audiocast the 2009 Assembly which it billed as the most important in its history and which no doubt cost at least $200K in legal and parliamentarian bills.
Leaders stressed all year long they wanted member involvement and then cut off members from this meeting. The main proposal, that the Assembly give up its power to elect board and officers, was soundly defeated.
Proxy votes, although forbidden by Robert’s and all other legislative guidelines, were used. An entire re-write of the bylaws was attempted at the regular annual meeting when Robert’s says a series of special meetings is needed for this.
PRS stopped publishing its members' directory in 2006, claiming it wanted to save paper and postage. PDF-ing the directory for members who want it would be simple and cheap.
Yet, illogically, it continues to publish the monthly Tactics and quarterly Strategist to its 21,000 members when those could also easily be PDF-ed.
Another meeting that should be audiocast is the "Leadership Rally" (of chapter presidents-elect) June 4-5 in New York. Tips on chapter-building should be shared with all members.
A simple tech tool that PRS ignores is the e-mail address book. Once set up, it allows e-mails to hundreds or thousands of people with one keystroke. PRS uses it to contact its 21,000 members. But not available this way is the 300-member Assembly delegate list. Members could then easily express themselves to their supposed legislative representatives. That would be the democratic thing to do.
We Called PRS Leaders "Nazis!?"
We're still recovering from the visit of PRS COO Bill Murray and chair Gary McCormick to our offices March 19.
Gary McCormick & Bill Murray
It was not a fact-finding visit, we can say that. They refused to look at boxes of evidence we had of PRS’s business of copying and selling authors' works without their permission.
Murray told us repeatedly that PRS has "chosen" not to deal with us and we should accept that. PRS is a "private corporation" and under no duty to answer any of our questions, he said.
This belief was expressed to us years ago by Jeff Tenenbaum of Venable, the 660-lawyer D.C. law firm of PRS. It's simply wrong.
The Society has lots of public obligations starting with living up to the word "Public" in its title. As a tax-free group, it's not supposed to be competing with any tax-paying company (which it does). Its finances are public via IRS Form 990. PRS is morally bound to follow its own Code of Ethics which pledges commitment to the "free flow of information."
PRS Leaders Fit "Soup Nazi" Description
As for our unforgivable offenses, Murray said one of them was calling PRS leaders "Nazis."
We said on the "For Immediate Release" podcast interview Jan. 19, 2009, that, like the victims of the Nazis, we would not give up on trying to collect for the 50,000+ copies of our articles that PRS sold from about 1980 to 1994.
The families of Jewish victims are still collecting. A comparatively easy matter after WWII was collecting from the German Government, which eventually paid $61.8 billion.
Harder was getting money from the Swiss banks that held deposits of concentration camp victims and German companies that used slave labor. The banks denied such accounts existed until 1997 when they admitted there were thousands of dormant accounts. Their owners were dead, many of them victims of Nazi concentration camps. The banks coughed up $1.2 billion to surviving relatives.
It was not until 1998 that Volkswagen admitted it used labor of 15,000 slaves during the war. Deutche Bank, Daimler-Benz and Siemens, which were also sued, are expected to provide $1.7 billion in reparations
Enter "Soup Nazis" and "Joan Rivers Nazis"
Surfing on the web we ran into "Soup Nazis" and "Joan Rivers Nazis." Nazi, besides referring to the Hitler regime, has entered the language as a synonym for dictatorial, rigid, nasty behavior and particularly summary judgment and execution of someone.
"Soup Nazi" was a character in the Seinfeld TV series.
The soup cook had strict rules for queing, ordering and paying and anyone who disobeyed them in the slightest was greeted with "No soup for you!" and ordered off the line. There was no chance of appeal.
One of those who offends him is Seinfield pal "George" who makes the mistake of asking for bread, noting others got free bread. George's money is handed back to him and his soup taken away with the phrase, “No soup for you!”
Larry Thomas, who played the Soup Nazi, got nominated for an Emmy for the role.
"Nazi," as used by Joan Rivers on a "Celebrity Apprentice" show in April 2009, meant someone who is dictatorial, rude and, in the words of Rivers, has a "sense of entitlement and thinking she's so much better than everybody else."
The sobriquet "Nazi," as popularized by Seinfeld, Rivers and others to mean dictatorial and arbitrary, certainly applies to the PRS leaders.
Their practice of convicting someone without a trial or presentation of any evidence, is certainly Nazi-like. We are far from the only victim of their Kangaroo Court.
In the same vein is their wanton theft and sale of large quantities of intellectual property of scores of authors and their dismissive treatment of authors when a dozen of them sought compensation. They refused to talk to the authors or pay them a nickel in cash or ads.
Tiger, Sponsors Are Being Outed
Ignorance, silence and snubbing are fighting a losing battle in this Age of Info.
The stonewalls that Tiger Woods have been hiding behind are crumbling and among those being outed are large numbers of people in his so-called inner circle, as reported by Vanity Fair.
We believe key people at sponsors such as Accenture, Pepsi, and Nike knew all about Tiger’s sexcapades but simply held their noses, figuring his wife Elin and his highly disciplined entourage would never let the cat out of the bag.
They failed to crank into this equation prostitutes, who are talking their heads off.
We're faced with similar stonewalling at PRS but plenty of cracks are showing up.
McCormick and Ron Owens quit the PRS board in 2006, we believe, because they couldn’t stand the stench of unethical and improper practices.
They were only the second and third sitting directors to resign in the history of the Society. The previous resignation, by Sherry Treco-Jones in 2004, took place the day after recommendations by her governance committee were rejected by the board.
Procter-Rogers Ducked Us
Cheryl Procter-Rogers, 2006 president, had initiated a policy of refusing to talk to us and we’re sure that didn’t sit well with McCormick, an employee of Scripps, a newspaper/TV group with an elaborate ethics code.
The 2006 board was the first after the 2005 Assembly that gave the executive committee the power to act in place of the full board. PRS/Miami charged that turned the board into "eunuchs."
McCormick and Owens were annoyed at abusive practices but found they were virtually powerless on the board so they quit.
But McCormick, two years later, suddenly had a change of heart and decided to run for chair-elect in 2008.
What happened? We believe that McCormick, then with the DIY (Do-it-Yourself) unit of Scripps, told his bosses that he could become elected head of the mighty PR Society since there was a severe shortage of anyone from recognizable companies. He no doubt noted that his opposition for chair was Rosanna Fiske, an associate PR professor at Florida International University.
Scripps saw it as a good opportunity to publicize its HGTV unit. Scripps had been hit with an almost catastrophic decline in ad revenue and needed to boost income of HGTV. It went to "war" with Cablevision of New York in early 2010 in a move to hike fees to Cablevision.
Scripps then transferred McCormick to the HGTV unit.
McCormick Had High Hopes
After years of being snubbed by PRS leaders, McCormick was a breath of fresh air to us.
Not only did he answer our questions in 2008, but so did five other PRS candidates including Don Kirchoffner, veteran Army PA officer; Catherine Huggins of Western & Southern Financial Group; Steve Grant of the National Education Assn.; Prof. Lynn Appelbaum of CCNY, and Prof. Vince Hazleton of Radford Univ.
McCormick started out with a bang in 2009, announcing that as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee he would appoint blacks (since none were on the PRS board), journalists and non-members to his committee. This would follow the mandate of Sarbanes-Oxley for outsiders on boards of directors. The PRS website says PRS is “committed” to SOX.
He was going to announce his committee at the Spring meeting of the board of directors.
McCormick Folds Tent
The board pulled the rug out from under McCormick at that meeting and he has meekly accepted this. He made no announcement at all following the meeting about his Strategic Planning Committee.
He and Scripps have accepted Scripps’ identity with the abusive practices of PRS to get HGTV’s name out and about.
Scripps is well aware of the ethical failings of PRS because we have sent a number of articles and links to web stories to its PR department as well as its top executives.
It’s just holding its nose, like the Tiger sponsors did.
We were especially disappointed with McCormick when he spent 17 minutes at the start of the 2009 Assembly on plans for 2010. The anxious delegates had on their plates an entire bylaws re-write that had to be done that day.
This was no time for blue-sky plans and programs. Besides, Murray and 2009 chair Mike Cherenson had already spent 20 minutes doing just that.
McCormick's "moment in the sun" was a 17-minute ad for Scripps that we’re sure pleased his bosses.
Also holding its nose is Florida International University, the employer of Fiske.
We have sent its top officials including its PR director and PR and journalism department heads plenty of materials.
The school obviously thinks having one of its professors as chair of the "world’s largest association of PR professionals" is a way to get publicity for FIU. They could be in for a rude awakening.
NYT, Wired by PRS, Holds Nose
The NYT, including business editor Larry Ingrassia, is fully informed about the abuses at PRS but is also holding its nose.
We have been through this before with the paper.
NYT reporter Bill Glaberson in 1993 was only too glad to get plenty of materials from us about the speech Dean Rotbart gave to the PRS conference in Orlando that year. He wrote a story of nearly one column in length.
The hour and 40-minute “Newsroom Confidential” speech told in detail how ads and tips influence news coverage. He said the misdeeds of financier Ivan Boesky, who later served jail time, were common knowledge among reporters but he was such a good news source they let him off the hook.
While what Rotbart said was true, the PRS code forbade any influence on release pickup except news values.
Once we pointed this out in the O’Dwyer NL, PRS decided not to offer the tape at all although it had spent plenty of money having the presentation videotaped by two cameras of Planned Communications Services. The plan was to make lots of money selling the tape.
Giving Rotbart a platform at the conference was obviously a giant screw-up.
No one on the staff of PRS, which is almost100% association professionals, had thought about the ethical angle—only about sales.
Rotbart also cancelled most of a 30-city tour.
About five months after the speech, we were sued for $21 million, charged with malicious inaccurate coverage.
PRS, the lawsuit revealed, had perpetual, unlimited copyright to the speech. Since PRS is so enthralled with “accuracy” and “truth,” it should have played the videotape to what would have been a large audience in New York.
Most of the major media, except for the NYT, were mentioned—Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Time and financial broadcast shows.
Showing the videotape would have confirmed the accuracy of our coverage. The judge in the case, throwing out all charges, called us “a good reporter.”
Deep Freeze Resulted
The reaction of PRS and the NYT to the lawsuit, which we covered extensively, was a deep freeze.
No mention of the suit or our victory ever appeared in the NYT although it won front page coverage in the Feb. 7, 1995 New York Law Journal and wide coverage in legal publications.
We had formed a legal defense fund and won public support from many PR leaders including Howard Rubenstein and Daniel Edelman.
The New York chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave us a front page story and the headline: “Deadline Club Supports Jack O’Dwyer in lawsuit.” We got, and continue to get, zip from the SPJ.
Also uninterested in this story was the Columbia Journalism Review. Rotbart was a graduate of the Columbia J School. J Many J School grads hope to get jobs at the NYT.
Can anyone tell us that the NYT is not wired to the teeth by PRS?
A failing of the NYT is that it refuses any coverage of the PR industry. While small in terms of dollar volume, it has a giant impact on the flow of news and information in the U.S.
Anyone Remember Rea Smith?
We're looking for pictures and other materials about the Society in the 1970s when staff was headed by career journalist and PR pro Rea Smith and many on the staff were PR professionals. Mail to me at 271 Madison ave., NY 10016 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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