|June 24, 2010|
|Left and Right Mix It up at PR Seminar|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|We're used to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Economist and Financial Times being at PR Seminar, but were shocked to see this year's program feature speakers from ProPublica, the privately-funded group of investigative journalists, and National Public Radio, the publicly-funded nationwide radio network.|
NPR got $55 million in direct public support and $16M in indirect public support in fiscal 2007, theyear of its latest IRS 990 filing. It has tried to lessen dependence on the federal government in recent years.
Both profess the loftiest of public-service goals so we don't know what they’re doing at PR's premiere "secret society," a group of PR people who never, ever answer a press call about the Seminar, which this year is headed by Johanna Schneider (pictured) of the Business Roundtable.
We don't think they respond to too many other press calls, either.
Their attitude towards the press and indeed, any "outsiders" is expressed at great length in the 46-page warning to employees of Viacom issued by VP Carl Folta, who has attended PRS.
The Village Voice described the 46-pages of threats as “corporate terrorism.” Basic message is: Keep Your Mouth Shut; Let PR Speak and Report Anything to PR Immediately.
Fun Goes Out of PR
The contrast between today's PR and that of the 1960's and '70s gets sharper and sharper. The main job of PR pros then was interacting with reporters in all sorts of ways including lunches, dinners, Broadway shows, sporting events, picnics, visits to homes, etc. Reporters were not only "friends," but "family."
This was the best part of the job. Both PR pro and spouse took part in all these entertainments. PR pros enjoyed rapping with reporters and sharing insights and gossip. Expense accounts were virtually unlimited. A common gambit was for a PR pro to host 4-5 reporters at lunch and let remarks fly.
Desk-bound PR pros now are the gestapo of their employers, monitoring all communications of employees including e-mails and blogs. Anyone remotely connected to the organization is also tracked. PR pros immediately snitch on anyone wavering from the corporate line. They also serve as blockers for their CEOs and keep outgoing information to a minimum. Their names are rarely seen on company websites. They’ve almost become the “spooks” of their organizations, operating in the shadows.
We attribute this sea change to financiers who want strict control of "material" (stock-moving) information; the anti-regulatory mood of business (as described in the June 14-21 column of the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki ), and the fact that most of today’s PR pros have gone directly into PR without any time in the media.
Bloomberg President Spoke
Another media big at PRS this year was Daniel Doctoroff, former New York City deputy mayor who became president of Bloomberg in 2008.
He spoke on “Toward a Unified Theory of the Future of News,” a topic both we and readers would love to hear more about.
Calling Bloomberg about this was like calling PRS itself. Our requests for the speech to Doctoroff’s office and Bloomberg PR were instantly dismissed.
Any time we reach a PR pro at Bloomberg the call is curtly cut off with protestations of “too busy,” a common corporate response. Only e-mail communication is permitted by Bloomberg and that is minimal.
Bloomberg PR refuses to discuss the recent departure of global PR head Judy Czelusniak. She had attended PRS for several years. It refuses to provide a contact for Czelusniak nor forward a message to her.
We were also shut out at NPR. Its PR unit said Matt Thompson, editorial products manager who spoke at the 2010 Seminar, would not speak with us or answer e-mails.
NPR’s 800 member stations get about 16% of their funding from the public, 10% coming from the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which is federally funded.
The latest Form 990 on GuideStar is for fiscal 2007 ending Sept. 30, 2008. Total revenues, including $85M from sale of investments, was $247M.
CEO Kenneth Stern’s salary for a partial year was $1.3M. He left suddenly in March 2008 reportedly over differences in the handling of digital media. Vivian Schiller became president in 2009.
Amanda Michel, “editor of distributed reporting” of ProPublica, who addressed PRS, gave us slides that explains what this is—citizen journalism. Volunteers are sought throughout the U.S. to report on local happenings.
She ran the citizen journalism site "OffTheBus" for The Huffington Post (meaning reporters who were not on the official campaign bus).
Michel's background includes national director of Generation Dean for presidential candidate John Dean in 2003-04 and creating the MediaCorps program for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
Steiger: $570K Salary in 2008
ProPublica is headed by Paul Steiger, who addressed PRS when he was managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. His 2008 pay was $570,000 plus other compensation of $14,242.
More than 20 national news organizations have sent speakers to PRS and the one sending the most is the WSJ. Other speakers included Peter Kann when he was president and publisher of WSJ; Robert Bartley, editor emeritus, and Alan Murray, executive editor of WSJ Online, who addressed PRS last year.
Neither WSJ nor any of these news organizations has ever mentioned the existence of PRS. Scalps added to the PRS rack now include ProPublica and NPR.
Jobless journalists and PR pros should learn to practice grantsmanship—obtain funding from a donor. Educators know this route to $$ well and journalists are learning it.
ProPublica gets almost all its money ($8 million of $8.5 million) from the Sandler Foundation of Herbert and Marion Sandler. They sold Golden West Financial Corp. to Wachovia Bank in 2006 for $24 billion with their share being $2.4B.
Sandler also helps fund the Center for American Progress and ACORN.
ProPublica's Form 990, filed Aug. 17, 2009, shows managing editor Stephen Engelberg was paid $451,972/$26,642; secretary/treasurer Richard Tofel, $296,370/$24,975; senior reporter Dafna Linzer, $166,976/$12,132, and senior reporter Jeffrey Gerth, $150,000/$9,533.
Total payroll for 46 staffers was $4,005,731. Income was $8.4M vs. $1.45M in the previous year with expenses totaling $6,136,387. Net was $2,435,833.
Non-Profits File Finances Late
Like almost all non-profits, ProPublica took its time filing—seven and a half months after the close of the year. Non-profit financial reporting practices contrast sharply with those of public companies that mostly report in the second or third week in January. There’s no good reason non-profits can’t do the same.
The Independent Sector (800 non-profits), urges non-profits to stop getting “extensions” and to put both their audits and 990s on the front page of their websites in a prominent place.
Almost none of them do that including the 501/c/3 ProPublica. c/3’s are educational/charitable institutions, a status oddly claimed by the Arthur W. Page Society. This is an issue that new president Julia Hood (pictured), former editor of PR Week/U.S., will have to face when she arrives at Page on July 12. So far, no one at Page will discuss this with us.
PR Seminar’s tax status is 501/c/6, acknowledging that is a trade association and that its members get something for their membership fees.
Normally, if someone contributes to a “charity,” nothing in return is expected. Page members get plenty for their dues of about $1,100.
Page filed its 990 on Oct. 5, 2009, nine months after the close of the year. Its 990 for 2009 is not yet available.
Hood will be sharing an office with Kathy Cripps, COO of the Council of PR Firms, at 342 Madison ave.
Cash/Savings of PRS Soared
Cash/savings of PRS soared 218% in 2008 to $374,306 from $117,968 in the previous year. Since no one will speak on behalf of PRS, an explanation cannot be obtained for this sudden jump.
Income for the year to Aug. 31, 2009 was $541,238 and expenses were $284,900 for a profit of $256,338.
Income in the previous year was broken out as $395,589 in Seminar revenue and $171,000 in corporate “sponsorships.” The latest filing does not provide such a break-out.
Biggest contributors in 2010, called “Sponsors,” were IBM, Business Roundtable, Corning and IBM. Second-tier contributors, called “Patrons,” were PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Tyco, American Express, Sempra Energy, Yahoo, Barrick Gold Corp. and Union Bank/Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
PR Seminar wants to be known as “Seminar” but its 990 IRS return says members are “leading public relations practitioners.”
PR Groups Should Help Rank-and-File
PR groups such as ProPublica ($3.3M cash), PR Seminar ($374,306), Arthur Page ($596,838), Institute for PR ($305,071), Council of PR Firms ($822,000) and PRSA ($4.6M) should get together and fund a midtown New York library and meeting place for rank-and-file PR pros and journalists.
This would be a worthwhile activity for the Committee for a Democratic PRSA, whose goal is to add some non-APRs to the national board. That inward-directed activity will do little to help the plight of two distressed job categories—journalism and PR.
We have e-mailed the presidents of the Society’s 110 chapters and thus far none of them will express support of the Committee’s goal nor take a binding vote on this issue among chapter members. No chapter website even mentions the Committee.
Return to Latest News