Gerard Corbett, San Bruno, Calif., counselor who is the 2012 chair of PR Society of America, has come out strongly in favor of making information available to “stakeholders.” Corbett praised an initiative by Phil Gomes, senior VP of Edelman Digital based in Chicago, who is attempting to open Wikepedia’s doors to PR people.

WP co-founder Jimmy Wales has long been opposed to entries and edits by PR pros and anyone who is being paid for their submissions.

Bob McEwen
Gomes, Wales, Corbett
A fierce debate is taking place on a Facebook page, “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement,” which was created by Gomes. [Facebook membership is required.]

Corbett Pledges “Assistance”

Corbett has pledged “assistance” with this effort, saying that “one of the many valuable roles of PR is to help organizations better connect with and inform stakeholders.”

However, Corbett is currently refusing to answer 15 requests for information sent to him by this website. The same questions will be sent to him by members and if past practice holds the members’ questions will also be ignored. Four Society Fellows did this in 2009 and obtained no answers.

PRS leaders and staff last year set new records for blocking information available to members including withholding minutes of the four board meetings and the Assembly; blocking coverage of the Assembly by any reporters; converting “teleconferences” into “listen-only” mode; withholding IRS Form 990 from the Assembly for the third year in a row, and continuing to provide false financial information to members by booking dues as cash in violation of FASB rules.

Chair Rosanna Fiske visited a record low of two chapter memberships (out of 110 chapters). Previous chair Gary McCormick, who resigned from the executive board in September, citing only “personal and professional reasons,” visited seven chapters. McCormick has refused to provide a further explanation or say whether he will chair the nominating committee next year.

He is the only executive committee member to resign in the 65-year history of the Society.

Questions for Corbett:
1. When will members get the minutes of the four board meetings last year and the minutes of the Assembly that was held Oct. 15, 2011?
2. Will there be an in-person meeting of the board later this month or will it be by telephone which it was last year?
3. Will you reveal the terms of the new three-year contract of COO Bill Murray which starts this month? Federal law says members must be told the salaries of the top eight executives of an association but a loophole allows an association to delay filing IRS Form 990, which has this data, until Nov. 15 of the following year.
4. Will you provide the 2012 Assembly with the 990 after three years of it being withheld from that body?
5. Will you correct Society membership materials to warn new members that they will be unable to hold national office or serve on the Ethics Board until they pay another $410 and become Accredited?
6. Will you stop the false financial reporting to members that books dues as cash when the Financial Accounting Standards Board requires dues to be booked month-by-month?
7. Will you remove from the Society newsroom the “media policy” that requires you and all officers and members to check with VP-PR Arthur Yann or his staff before responding to a press inquiry?
8. Will you continue the Society boycott of O’Dwyer staffers although this has been condemned by the National Press Club and PR Watch?
9. Do you agree with Yann’s statement that the Society has every right to block any reporter from covering the Assembly?
10. Will you let members see the national list of Assembly delegates, something that has been denied them since 2005? Will you again make a transcript of the Assembly available members and press?
11. Will you reveal your speaking schedule to chapters or elsewhere or will it be a closely guarded secret as it was for Fiske last year?
12. Do you favor allowing reporters to join the Society and thus have access to PRS financial reports?
13. Can you come up with any reasons why the membership list should not be available on a PDF?
14. Will you restore the complete list of h.q. staffers so members can see who is working for them and check staff turnover? Only seven of the 50+ staffers are now listed on the site.
15. Will you again publish the list of 110 chapter presidents as a single document, saving chapter presidents and others the job of visiting 110 chapter websites to get this information?

Wikipedia Under Fierce Attack

PR pros and others have become alarmed at what they feel is the deterioration of Wikipedia, claiming that its 20 million articles (3.8 million in English) are often either wrong or outdated and that WP’s 10,000 volunteer editors are blocking corrections.

Virtually banned from WP are any entries or corrections by PR people.

Wales in 2006 said that PR pros editing WP “is something we frown upon very very strongly. The appearance of impropriety is so great that we should make it very very strongly clear to these firms that we do not approve of what they would like to do.”

Wales this week blasted CREWE participant William Beutler as having done “the single best job of abusing our assumption of good faith and illustrating why it’s so critical that people in your position (PR pros or those otherwise paid to contribute to WP) be completely restricted from making edits in article space.”

WP has a “practice box” called “Talk Page” where contributors can propose corrections or new items.

Beutler, a writer and filmmaker based in Washington, D.C., discussed the Talk Page recently during an interview on C-SPAN.

WP Heavily Consulted

Gomes said that WP is on the “first page of search results for nearly every company, brand, product, personality, captain-of-industry, etc.” and that this “shoulders WP with a great level of responsibility.”

He said “Many entries are derelict, even for important topics and well-known industry bellwethers. “Financial data is often years old. Some companies are described as remaining in businesses long divested.”

Attempts to deal with WP editors on Talk Pages “often go ignored for very long periods while inaccurate information persists.”

Gregory Kohs, who submits materials for clients, says there is “a small sect of established Wikipedians who have lost sight of ‘improving the encyclopedia’ as the mission, having replaced it with a mission of ‘bash all paid-for content and make those editors as miserable as possible. Wales has elected for five years to side with this small sect of zealots rather than find ways to make both sides adhere to common sense cooperative rules that benefit the content of WP.”

David King, a self-styled “WP expert,” posted on CREWE that the article on PR is “in an atrocious state.”

King, who is editing the PR entry, said he is looking for citations that are “freely available and include detailed, encyclopedic information on the history of PR.”

He was previously with Gutenberg Communications, New York, but is currently in his own firm.