The appointment of Paula Payton as director of Strategic Communication, Marketing and Media Mgmt. programs at New York University, a title that drops "PR" although there is still an M.S. in PR and corp. comms., may herald a new era in this section of NYU.

Payton, who had her own marketing and communications firm in Annapolis for ten years, discussed the new title on the phone with us, a breakthrough for NYU. She also gave an interview to Marketwired at the PR Society of America conference last October.

Payton, Mathewson

She noted that this decision is in line with a trend in the profession toward more integrated marketing and communication. It also signals a commitment from NYU-SCPS to prepare its graduates to meet the needs of the ever-evolving PR and marketing professions in the current and future mobile, digital, and 24/7 communication environments.

An NYU PR stafffer helped us with the story and has promised to visit our offices.

The direction for this is no doubt coming from Rosemary Anne Mathewson, who joined NYU in 2012 as division dean of the NYU-School of Continuing and Professional Studies. A lawyer, she was managing director of Duke Corporate Education in London from 2005-11.

NYU Ice Has Been Thick & Cold

The NYU PR/CC program, although located two-and-a-half blocks from us, might as well be in the Fiji Islands.
Founded in 200 by John Doorley, formerly at Merck, it has grown to 372 students paying $65K for a two-to four year course of study (42 credits).

We have offered O’Dwyer facilities to the instructors and students of the sequence from the start and offered to speak to one of the classes.

There have been no takers in eight years. Communication with anyone at NYU has been about zip.

The NYU PR Society of America Student chapter and PRSA/New York hosted a career forum last April 2  attended by 150+ but the press was blocked from covering it. We offered to give out a half dozen O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms, a job-hunting source, but the chapter said we would first have to pay $1,000 to exhibit any “products.”

We stood outside the Kimmel Center while VP-PR Arthur Yann of the Society made sure we did not even enter the building. NYU PR, informed of this blockage, said it was not an NYU event although it was on NYU premises and was staged with the cooperation of the local student chapter. The Council of PR Firms had similar student forums at Boston University  and San Jose University  last year. In both instances, press coverage was allowed and free copies of the O’Dwyer directory were raffled off to the students.

We took an ad in the NYU student newspaper offering free directories but there were no takers.

PR Society CEO Bill Murray last year addressed the Ethics, Law and Regulation class of adjunct Prof. Jim Holtje, saying “Ethics needs to be part of our everyday lives and all of the work we do. It is that simple.” Murray, as quoted in a department publication, said PR people must “always be truthful with ourselves and others.”

Class Should Be at O’Dwyer’s

We’re hopeful the new NYU regime will open the doors fully to materials available on PR in the O’Dwyer library that has been building for nearly 46 years. It has more than 700 volumes on PR, journalism, marketing and financial reporting plus numerous articles and studies and 46 years of the weekly O’Dwyer NL, 27 years of the O’Dwyer magazine, and many other PR and ad trade publications and directories.

Best way would be for one of the classes to be brought to O’Dwyer offices where the materials can be displayed and questions answered.

Another sign that NYU is interfacing more with the outside world is that nine of its students are members of the New York Financial Writers Assn., which has mostly attracted students and faculty of Columbia University for many years.

The 2013-14 members’ book shows nine from NYU, up from three in 2011-12.There are 21 from Columbia, down from 29 in 2011-12.

Columbia J Grads Knock Journalists

Two Columbia J Grads, who are also past members of NYFWA, and who also have the same first name, are critics of financial journalists.

They are Denver journalist Dean Rotbart, who has been profiled by Talking Biz News, and Dean Starkman, who has just authored The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark, which charges that the financial press did not adequately warn the public about excesses in mortgage lending.

Financial Follies
2013 Financial Follies
(Photo: Sharlene Spingler)

The annual “Financial Follies” of NYFWA draws a black tie crowd of about 1,000 each November at which more than 400 financial journalists are guests of the financial houses and blue chip companies that they cover. Tickets are $350.

Starkman is now busting on his former fellow NYFWA members just as Rotbart did in an open session at the PRSA conference in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 16, 1993.

Both attacks are unwarranted and unsupported by the facts.

“Newsroom Confidential” Rapped Journalists

Rotbart, in an hour and 40-minute presentation that was based on his “Newsroom Confidential” seminars (attendees had to sign promises of confidentiality), gave a very negative view of financial reporters. He said they were mainly interested in their own careers, their bosses and their sources.

If you’re not a source, you may become one of the subjects they need to “beat up.” Reporters can ignore “minor negative news items” of sources and even major negative developments, he said. He noted that as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal he dealt with Ivan Boesky, who later went to jail on securities fraud charges. He said reporters heard various rumors about Boesky but did not want to “bite the hand that fed us.”

Ads and news tips were accurately said to be influential in obtaining coverage. However, any influence on coverage besides the story itself was specifically barred under the PRSA Code. The O’Dwyer Newsletter, which reported this conflict, resulted in the Society cancelling plans to sell videotapes of the Rotbart talk. A planned 22-city tour by Rotbart was also cancelled.

Rotbart’s company, TJFR, sued the O’Dwyer Co. in 1994 for $21.5 million, claiming copyright infringement, libel and other offenses. The O’Dwyer Co. victory won first page coverage in the Feb. 7, 1995 New York Law Journal. The decision said our calling the Rotbart talk “bilge” and “a worm’s eye view of journalism” fit the “fair use exception to copyright infringement.”

Failing to cover the lawsuit or the O’Dwyer victory were the New York Times, which had done two stories on the Rotbart talk, after we reported the speech to NYT staffer Bill Glaberson, and the Columbia Journalism Review (although the American Journalism Review devoted a page to it). Other legal and PR media covered the decision.

Starkman Criticism Unjustified

Starkman’s claim that “The U.S. business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008” is full of holes.

There is no mention of NYFWA, for instance.

Blaming the press for the financial debacle is like blaming the press for the Iraq War. That was declared by the Bush Administration in the face of overwhelming evidence that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

Culprits in the mortgage mess, besides the banks, were the ratings agencies (Fitch, S&P and Moody’s) that over-rated investments, and CPAs who allowed off-balance sheet entries. NYT columnist Floyd Norris, under the headline, “Accountants Misled Us Into Crisis,” wrote Sept. 10, 2009 that “Major banks were hiding dubious assets off their balance sheets.”

Stanley Sporkin, an SEC top enforcer from 1961-81, told a Columbia J School symposium Nov. 14, 2000 that financial instruments had become so complex and opaque that they were befuddling journalists. He said he was convinced there was improper manipulation going on but Ph.D.s and lawyers had put up “a wall of complexity.” The session was funded in part by Knight-Bagehot.

Banks Lent to Almost Anyone

Banks were giving mortgages to almost anyone who showed up, knowing they could quickly off-load the risks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

We had our own experience with go-go banking that luckily did not do too much damage.

The home we bought in Greenwich in 1979 had gone from $200,000 to more than $1.5 million by the early 2000’s. We went to the bank to close out the remaining $73,000 mortgage but the bank convinced us instead to switch to a “home equity line of credit” that would involve no banking fees whatever and could be used for investments. Why tie up all this money in a home, the bank told us?

You now have a $400,000 “home equity” line of credit against your ever-appreciating house, we were told. Interest was only a couple of percentage points but was variable.

So armed, we purchased another house for $200K with a single check.  That ballooned to $300K at one point but in the crash dipped to $150K. We sold the home and closed the line of credit, which had zoomed to interest of about 7%.
There’s no doubt many others went for the “home equity” come-on which often was a second mortgage.

The blame for the collapse belongs on the hard-driving banks, the ratings services, the CPAs and the lax SEC and none of it belongs on financial reporters.