University of Denver Law Dean Martin Katz has rejected a request by this website that the law school perform a mediating role in the battle between PR Society of America and writers and reporters.
Writers have been seeking recompense from the Society since they discovered in 1994 it was selling large quantities of copies of their works without their permission.
Claims by the Society that the sale or “loaning” of their works was “fair use,” or that the Society was only functioning as a “library,” were branded “absurd” by the Authors Guild. The Society, while claiming it was doing nothing wrong, immediately stopped selling copies of articles by a dozen complaining authors.
In addition to being asked to compensate authors for the hundreds of thousands of copies of works that were sold from 1978-94 and brought the Society hundreds of thousands dollars of profits (net of about $60K a year), the Society is also being asked to admit reporters as members.
Membership, currently barred to reporters, would give them access to the 22,000-member database. The Society, up until 2005, either sold copies of its members’ directory or gave them away free to reporters. Publication of the directory was halted after the 2005 edition.
Catherine Bolton, a career PR person who headed the staff from 2001-2006, had a policy of sending the directory to a list of major editors and giving copies away free to any reporter who asked for one.
Imbalance in Press/PR Contact Points
There is a large imbalance in the availability of press contact points and PR contact points.
Vocus, Cision, BusinessWire and PR Newswire, “gold” ($20,000) sponsors of the 2014 annual conference of the Society in Washington, D.C., and perennial major sponsors of the conference, sell to PR people the access points of hundreds of thousands of editors in all media including phones, cell phones, e-mails, addresses and dossiers on the editors in some instances.
The contact points are in a convenient, thoroughly indexed form that makes it easy for PR people to contact relevant editors.
The Society’s Blue Book of members was a means of fulfilling that role for editors seeking access to individual PR people or by their employer or geographical location.
This reporter sought membership in the Society earlier this month. A credit card payment of $440 was processed but cancelled as soon as we tried to access the member database.
The reason given by VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski, since we qualified for membership on at least three grounds (doing PR for the company, being involved in research, and supervising employee relations), was 23 pages of charges against us that were in a Society letter dated Sept. 1, 2011.
Cegielski said she would examine our rebuttals of 35 different offenses we were accused of if we put them in writing and sent them to her. That was done in a web posting April 15.
We have yet to hear whether we will be accepted for membership of not. If we gain membership, any reporter could also join. Media companies could take memberships that would give them access to 22,000 PR people. This would be similar to the access that the Society’s members have to editors.
Many PR groups, including the Int’l Assn. of Business Communicators, the Int’l PR Assn., Publicity Club of New York and Publicity Club of Chicago, admit press as members.
Dean Katz Rejects Mediator Role
The response of Dean Katz, received yesterday, is as follows.
“Our law school does not investigate allegations of misconduct by, or attempt to influence the professional decisions of, our graduates after they have graduated. Please make clear in your blog that neither the University of Denver Sturm College of Law nor its dean is studying the legal moves of the Society.”
The Society has not made a legal move against us in blocking membership. It has cited a 23-page quasi-legal document that was publicized on its website. No court action is involved although the 35 highly-detailed charges have all the earmarks of a lawsuit. We are not making allegations of misconduct by Cegielski. We are criticizing Society policies and practices.
University “Steeped in Ethics”
It occurred to us to e-mail dean Katz as well as five Sturm law professors specializing in legal ethics because the University states on the first page of its website that, “Our culture is steeped in ethics and social responsibility.”
The University is also described as “a great private university dedicated to the public good. In all that we do, we strive for excellence, innovation, engagement, integrity and inclusiveness.”
The statement further says the school’s mission is to “promote learning by engaging with students in advancing scholarly inquiry, cultivating critical and creative thought and generating knowledge.”
PR Society Welshed on Denver Promise
A key moment in Society history took place in Denver in 1984.
A Denver Post reporter was evicted from the 1984 PRS Assembly by president Barbara Hunter, who presided over the meeting. Only PR trade reporters are allowed, said Hunter, in ordering the reporter from the room.
The Post struck back with a scathing editorial the next day resulting in Society PR director Donna Peltier announcing that the bylaws of the Assembly had been amended so that no reporter, trade or otherwise, would ever be ejected or forbidden to attend an Assembly in the future.
We’re trying to find out the name of the reporter and get a copy of the Post story with the help of SPJ Ethics vice chair Fred Brown of Colorado who worked for the Post but this has yet to be accomplished.
Acting on my request for intervention by the SPJ in the O’Dwyer boycott, ethics committee chair Kevin Smith of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., contacted “PRSA officers” and shared “our concerns and our longstanding support for transparency and open meetings.”
Smith said Brown and all members of the Ethics Committee listened to O’Dwyer’s description of the boycott and read the Society’s 23-page bill of particulars Brown is quoted as saying, “The Society does have a strong argument as well, and if there’s exaggeration here as you say, it seems to be happening on both sides.”
So Brown concludes by saying “We saw no compelling reason to pursue this discussion further, taking sides to the point of confrontation. The rest of the ethics committee apparently shares our opinion that this is the Society’s decision and they have to live with whatever bad PR they may get from it.”
Brown’s statement only refers to possible “bad PR” the PR Society may suffer, ignoring the damage that the Society’s boycott does to the O’Dwyer Co.