Bans on audio-taping, picture-taking, press coverage, discussing certain topics, and lack of name badges mar meetings of journalism, biz and PR groups.

O’Dwyer reporters have attended meetings of a half dozen PR, J groups and businesses in recent days and find they presented a mixed-communications bag. They seemed to be about blocking communication as much as facilitating it.

“IRE”Members of the Investigative Reporters & Editors who met May 22 at The Beer Authority included, left to right, Eric Sagara, ProPublica; Shane Shifflet, HuffPost; Colter Jones, WNYC, and his wife, Ryann Jones, ProPublica. 
Photo: Sharlene Spingler

The most recent meeting last Thursday night brought 39 members of Investigative Reporters & Editors to the Beer Authority on Eighth Ave. and 40th St. The 700 local members are the largest single group among 4,780 members. The last national meeting of IRE in New York was in 2000.

We’re reminded of other New York-avoiding organizations including Omnicom, which had its last stockholders’ meeting in New York in 2002, and PR Society of America, which last met in New York in 2004. The Society has picked the next four cities and New York is not one of them.

Since almost none of the 25 New York PR groups that existed in the 1970s-80s are still around, we’re grateful that any groups of journalists or PR people are meeting.

There are flaws in IRE-NY even though its organizers say there is no such thing. Sarah Cohen of the New York Times is the main “organizer” and no elections are in sight although there should be. Current meetings, including one last Sept. 10, are “social only,” meaning no serious topics can be raised and no speeches by anyone.

A problem with the latest meeting was noise. The decibel level in the main area, where the journos gathered, rivals that of an arriving subway train. Conversation was difficult. A customer commented on the Beer Authority’s website as follows:

“It's so loud, you can't talk to any of your friends in the main area. Why? I don't know…I would not go back under normal circumstances. If they had a rare beer I could not get anywhere else, I would come with ear plugs.”

The thought occurs that maybe IRE-NY does not want its members communicating with each other, just hoisting a few beers and making light comments.

Name Badges Missing

Sarah Cohen
Sarah Cohen

Another flaw was that name badges were not provided, which is standard in most business groups including the Arthur W. Page Society. Badges facilitate meeting new people. Also, no one at the May 22 meeting had any business cards (or they wouldn’t give them out). There seems to be a fear of betraying one’s identity.

IRE-NY will not supply e-mails or other contact points of the attendees.

Cohen and co-organizer Maurice Tamman of Reuters enforced the “no speeches” rule. They refused to be photographed. Free access to the O’Dwyer website and library would have been offered to the journalists had there been an opportunity.

IRE/national is based at the University of Missouri J School. Its meeting this year is in San Francisco June 26-29 while last year’s was in San Antonio. Boston was the locale in 2012. IRE (EIN: 51-0166741) had $3.9M in cash/savings as of 2012 of which $3.1M is “permanently” restricted.

Mystery of Missing IRE Reporter Tapes

IRE/national hosted an all-day meeting Jan. 24 attended by 220 at City University of New York that had talks by 32 journalists including Walt Bogdanich and Dave Barstow of the New York Times, who have each won three Pulitzer Prizes.

The investigative techniques used by both, including pretending not to know much when approaching story targets, offering to provide information rather than looking for info, and nabbing subjects before they are “lawyered up,” were the two most important speeches.

Tapes would have been invaluable for PR people and reporters but, astoundingly, IRE said there was an equipment glitch and only four of the talks were properly recorded (not including B&B). Executive director Mark Horvit said IRE only had a single recorder and it “failed.”

This strains credulity because the question arises as to when flaws in the equipment were discovered. The CUNY J school was bristling with video and audio equipment so it’s like someone dying of hunger in a supermarket. We spent the entire day at the CUNY session and no one told us about any recording problems. It was nearly two months before that explanation came out. We asked to address the group Jan. 24 but Horvit said there was no room although there was plenty of time between sessions.

The talks of B&B should have been videotaped and marketed widely to journalistic and PR audiences. Both have a lot to learn from an unprecedented peek into the minds of two of NYT’s top investigators.

Luckily, two Al Jazeera reporters, Lam Thuy Vo and Joanna Kao, took extensive notes which were published on the O’Dwyer website. The notes are also on the IRE website but seekers will have to work to find them.

Omnicom Meeting Tight as a Bolt

Worst meeting from a communications standpoint was the OMC stockholders session in Washington, D.C. May 20. 

Not only were reporters banned, but stockholders were warned in writing not to take pictures or record anything, not to speak longer than three minutes, not to make any personal grievances, not to mention pending or threatened litigation, and to avoid subjects “irrelevant to the business of the company or conduct of its operations.”

There were no questions from anyone given those marching orders. The O’Dwyer Co. only gained admittance because we own a few shares of stock and presented a proxy. The 25 people in the room seemed to be employees of FleishmanHillard/D.C., where the meeting took place.

OMC had just blown $55-$60 million on the failed takeover attempt of Publicis (described as “only 15-20 cents a share” in a teleconference) so there might have been questions about that. The pay packages of CEO John Wren and CFO Randy Weisenburger that totaled $114.8 million in 2012-13 might have been a topic. Their tabs for flying in OMC-leased or owned corporate jets were $124K and $123K, respectively, which is more than the income of 99% of Americans.

OMC’s attitude towards press coverage tracks with that of PRS which in 2010 started banning photos or recording of its annual Assembly. As of 2011, it banned reporters altogether. VP-PR Arthur Yann e-mailed in October of 2011 to newsroomink.com that PRS is a “private member organization” and that the Assembly “is a private meeting of our members. We’re well within our rights to bar any and all reporters from attending.” Policy until 2005 was not only to record the entire Assembly, but provide a transcript and audiotape to reporters and members who asked for them.

The Society’s Foundation, headed by Lou Capozzi, has some of the press policies of its parent. Reporters are not invited but can attend if they buy tickets for $500. Name badges are not provided.

Good Meetings: Page, IPG, CenCom

Good meetings O’Dwyer staffers attended included the Spring Seminar of the Arthur W. Page Society in New York April 3-4 where all sessions were on-the-record and open to the press and name badges were provided. Reps of the NYT and Washington Post said running advertorials would be done so as not to compromise journalistic integrity.

The Interpublic stockholders meeting, which unlike OMC’s is always in New York, was held May 22 at the McGraw-Hill auditorium and was open to the press and public as well as stockholders.

The Center for Communication, New York, had excellent programs that were on-the-record and allowed both photos and audio recording. Videotapes were made available for sale.

George Brock, author of Journalism: Bullish on the Future, was featured in one. Three gossip columnists spoke at another and a third session featured PR pro/journalist Gil Schwartz who heads PR for CBS and writes for Fortune under the name Stanley Bing.

USS Liberty Survivors Seek Recognition

The May 22 New York Post hailed with a front page story and a full page feature inside the arrival in New York harbor the day before of the USS Cole, the destroyer that was attacked while in Aden Harbor, Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, resulting in 17 sailors being killed and 39 others being wounded. The story ran under the headline, “Indestructible” and had a photo of the hole that was blown in the side of the vessel. There was also a photo of the repaired destroyer.

NYT all but ignored the occasion, mentioning the Cole in one paragraph that was buried in a story headlined: “Fleet Week Shrinks.” Number of ships participating was one-quarter of the total in previous Fleet Weeks, it said.

Survivors of the USS Liberty, an intelligence-gathering ship that was attacked by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war, causing the loss of 34 lives plus injuries to 174 others, said that while the crew of the Cole deserves the recognition it is getting, it exceeds that which has been given to the crew of the Liberty.

Israel has said the attack was a mistake in the heat of war and issued an apology. Abraham Foxman, national director, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, New York, said in a letter published Aug. 31, 1988 in NYT, that Israel went searching for a ship that reportedly was shelling its troops and in the “chaos and confusion” of war, mistakenly attacked the Liberty.

Stephen St. John, an associate member of the USS Liberty Veterans Assn., had contended in a letter to the NYT Aug. 11, 1988, that “Justice still awaits survivors of the USS Liberty.”

He said that the motive for attacking the Liberty still has not been addressed because “the facts have never been officially acknowledged.”

U.S. author Alison Weir (not to be confused with the U.K. historian of the same name) wrote in CounterPunch March 16 that American Legion personnel have “repeatedly treated Liberty veterans, their families and their friends with arrogance, disrespect and even disdain…”

NYT articles on the Liberty incident are few and far between, say members of the Liberty Veterans Assn. NYT should assemble a team that would put this matter to rest.