Nicole BronzanNicole Bronzan of Freedom to Marry, will join ProPublica Sept. 16 as communications director, replacing five-year veteran Mike Webb, who had the title of VP/communications.

ProPublica, a group of 40 investigative journalists supported by $10.9 million in income last year and which sports some of the world’s highest-paid journalists (eight staffers made more than $200K in 2012), has yet to look into PR although we hope it will.

Freedom To MarryPR people are the main interface with reporters at organizations of all sizes and in recent years have been tightening their grip on the flow of information.

This is not only a U.S. phenomenon but one that is worldwide as evidenced by UNESCO’s 51-page report in 2012 documenting press persecution, intimidation and avoidance worldwide. While the murder of journalists wins headlines, the great bulk of press interference takes place at the local level, said the report. Governments, businesses and trade groups are the culprits, it said.

The National Press Club has taken note of this trend in the U.S., sending a statement on Oct. 20, 2011 to 390 major media scolding the PR Society of America for its press-blocking practices which include barring reporters from its annual legislative Assembly in both 2011 and 2012 after 40+ years of allowing them to cover it.  Until 2005, when the PR Society started instituting a raft of information-blocking practices, a 400-page+ transcript of the Assembly and an audiotape were made available to reporters.

The PR Society, the world’s largest PR organization (21,000 members) should not be engaged in press blocking practices, said NPC, whose statement won the “hearty agreement” of New York State Senator Liz Krueger.

Wells Fargo Rescued Golden West/Wachovia

Herb Sandler
ProPublica was founded in 2007 by Herbert and Marion Sandler, former CEOs of Golden West Financial, who sold the bank to Wachovia Bank in 2006 for $25 billion. But GWF was loaded with so many bad mortgages that it almost immediately had to sell out to Wells Fargo.

The Sandlers, who netted $2.4B from the sale, committed $10 million yearly to ProPublica and hired as editor-in-chief Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.

The Sandlers are still the major backers of ProPublica, donating $4 million in 2012 and $5M in 2011, according to IRS form 990 for 2012 that lists 77 donors to the 501/c3 non-profit.

Gifts came from 76 other donors including $2M from the John & James Knight Foundation. Edelman and Kekst and Co. were among the contributors. Net assets rose to $4,410,365 from $3,338,883.

The 990 and ProPublica website list numerous awards ProPublica has won including a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for an expose on corrupt Wall Street practices and a Pulitzer in 2010 for reporting on euthanasia at a New Orleans hospital following Hurricane Katrina.

Oscar SurisA player in the PR Society’s press-blocking policies is Oscar Suris, EVP of CC of Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, who is co-chair of the 2013 annual conference of the PR Society in Philadelphia Oct. 26-29. Suris somehow got to be co-chair of the conference, which is on the other side of the nation, although he is not even a member of the Society.

Society spokesperson Stephanie Cegielski is refusing to say which reporters will be “credentialed” for the meeting or whether any will be allowed at the Assembly.

Further tightening the screws on reporters, she says no reporter will be allowed to cover more than one day of the meeting.

Attempts to get Suris to exercise his authority as conference co-chair have gone nowhere.

Webb Dodged PR Duties

Mike Webb
Webb, who is relocating to Hawaii, responded to charges that he would not deal with us while at ProPublica.

He definitely did not follow Harold Burson’s definition of a PR person’s duties as starting with listening, followed by telling the employer what is right or wrong, serving as an advocate for media, and answering press questions.

We never met Webb and only had the briefest of phone conversations with him. We wrote several stories on the high pay packages at ProPublica ($584K IN 2012 for Steiger who retired at the start of 2013; $391K for managing editor Stephen Engelberg, and $363K for treasurer Richard Tofel).

No one at ProPublica except Webb would talk to us.

Webb’s answer to such charges is that he was on the “business/administrative side” of the nonprofit and that my request for assistance from ProPublica in gaining access to PR Society events was a matter for others in the organization.

He joined ProPublica in 2008 from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law where he was deputy director of communications and strategy.

Earlier in his career he worked on campaigns including Bill Bradley’s run for president, Marty Markowitz for Brooklyn Borough president, and Ohio Attorney General Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr.

Will Bronzan Be Any Different?

The question now is whether Bronzan will be any different from Webb?

She is an activist for gay rights, almost opting out of marrying herself in order to show solidarity with gay people who are unable to marry.

She and her husband considered such a move but did get married and now have a son.
We hope she will show as much zeal for press freedoms.

Bronzan was at the New York Times from May 2003 to December 2009, rising to assistant metro editor in September 2008, managing coverage of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and urban arts.

She joined Freedom to Marry in July 2012 and remained 14 months.
A graduate of Florida A&M University, she started her career as a copy editor at the Tampa Bay Times.