Patrick Merle, Ph.D. candidate and mass communications instructor, Texas Tech University, has berated the PR trade press for failure to pay much attention to what academics write.

Merle’s 25-page essay on “Absence of Trade Press Coverage of Mass Communications Academic Research: A Bittersweet Victory for PR,” appeared in the summer 2012 edition of PR Journal, the online academic publication of PR Society of America that is supervised by Prof. Donald Wright of Boston University.

Astoundingly, Merle’s list of trade papers examined for the period from 2000-2010 was confined to PR News, Advertising Age, Editor & Publisher, Broadcasting and Cable and Folio, ignoring the O’Dwyer magazine and newsletter and PR Week/U.S.

Merle said he did not have access to the O’Dwyer publications or PR Week and that he plans a follow-up study. He hopes for more interaction between academics, the PR press and working PR practitioners.

His article praises the Institute for PR for helping to “bridge that gap.”

IPR is hosting an International PR Research Conference March 6-10 at the Holiday Inn, University of Miami, Coral Gables.

Merle earned an M.A. from the French Institute of Paris in 1997.

PR Trade Pickup is Highest Among Low

The paper is titled “A Bittersweet Victory for PR” because PR publications showed the most use of academic research in a field marked by very low use of such research, said Merle.

Credit for the essay is also given to Coy Callison, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for graduate studies, College of Mass Communications, TTU, Lubbock, Texas.

The abstract for the study says content of 2,077 articles was randomly sampled at five points in the past decade (2,000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010) from the five “trade magazine titles” named above.
Purpose was to determine “how professional-focused publications cover academic research and how specifically the PR trade press address scholarly work.”

Says the abstract: “The analysis reveals that academic research appeared in ten of the total articles sampled (0.5%) while industry research was more prevalent and discussed in 125 of all articles (6.0%).

“The lack of research coverage, however, was not consistent across the trade journals. While publications targeting professionals in advertising, newspaper, magazine and broadcast all mentioned research in less than 10% of articles, PR News articles detailed research nearly 25% of the time.”

Academics Could Learn from Trade Press

Our experience with PR academic research is that it could learn a lot by studying the PR trade press.

Another example of the need to follow the press, in addition to the one cited above, is Professor Kathy Fitzpatrick’s 45-page examination of the reasons for the Society dropping the enforcement part of its Ethics Code in 1999.

Fitzpatrick, a PR professor at Quinnipiac University and a member of the Ethics Board that re-wrote the Code in 2000, wrote articles on the history of the Code and the revision of the Code for the Journal of Mass Media Ethics in 2002. The articles are referenced in Wikipedia’s recently posted history of the Society.

She provides 41 reference points for her two articles but none to O’Dwyer media which carried many thousands of words on the cancellation of the Code.

Her articles do not mention potential reasons for the withdrawal from the enforceable Code that included charges that the firm of Lee Duffey, treasurer of the Society and in line to be chair-elect, was accused of involvement in front groups that were attacking the EIFS form of construction; accusations by a Fellow that the board had violated five articles in the Code by twice voting a press boycott; charges of financial mismanagement by the board that led to a $1.1 million loss for 1999-2000 and cancellation of the 2000 members’ directory, and complaints that there was improper influence on board and officer nominations and elections.

Nomcom Choices Over-Ruled

Nominating committee choices were over-ruled in 1999 and 2000 by those supporting write-in candidate Joann Killeen of Los Angeles who won election as treasurer and then chair-elect.

Her defeat of official nominee Art Stevens of New York for chair-elect in the 2000 Assembly was helped by the public support of nine sitting directors of the Society.

Jack Felton, 1987 president who headed a nomcom reform committee, said it was highly improper for directors to be involved in picking Society officers or directors. His views were echoed by 2000 nomcom chair Mary Cusick and Stevens.

The Society in 1999 suppressed its own five-year, $150,000 study that found “PR specialist” to rank 43 on a list of 45 credible sources of information, never printing the list, nor holding a press conference, nor sending a release on it.

The only two PR practitioners on staff in 1999, Richard George and Heather Rogers, both quit. Auditor Deloitte & Touche refused initially to sign off on the audit. CFO Joe Cussick quit suddenly in June. The audit was finally approved in August, a record lateness.