The Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State, taking a much-needed PR leadership role, has launched a campaign for better government/institutional press relations. It can’t be done alone.
Help is also needed from the four PR associations represented at the Feb. 22 dinner at the Grand Hyatt—the Arthur W. Page Society, Institute for PR, PR Council, and PR Society of America—as well as some organizations that were not there.
Jill Gabbe, senior advisor, Finn Partners (left) with Jack O'Dwyer (middle) and Bill Nielsen, chair of the Arthur W. Page Society dinner. (photos: Erica Berger)
Bill Nielsen and Marie Hardin, Dean, College of Communications, Penn State.
Jon Iwata (right) of IBM presenting award to Dick Martin.
Ann Barkelew, founding general manager and senior partner of Fleishman-Hillard with Harold Burson.
The Page Center’s “PR” at the dinner was flawless—providing this reporter with a seat at the table in front of the podium so we could take photos and talk to Page Center executives and the award winners, and providing us with texts of award winners Ann Barkelew, Dick Martin and Alan Murray. Questions to staff were answered promptly—even on the weekend.
We give the Page Center an “A” for practicing PR as we had routinely experienced it several decades ago.
We also give good marks for press relations to the Arthur W. Page Society, Institute for PR, PR Council, New York Women in Communications, Museum of PR, Black PR Society, Center for Communication, and Communications Week, an event staged each fall in New York by Tiffany Guarnaccia of Kite Hill PR.
Reps at the above pick up the phone when called, answer questions and supply documents. Reporters are welcome at their events and leaders are available for in-person interviews.
Flunked: CPJ, SPJ, PRSA, ProPublica, Politico
As for press-averse groups, the well-heeled Committee to Protect Journalists quickly comes to mind.
CPJ, which called Donald Trump “an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists,” pledged at its $1,000-a-plate banquet Nov. 22, 2016, to shift part of its attention from abroad, where it documents press persecution, to the U.S., where reporters are battling with the Trump Administration.
The banquet was chaired by CNN president Jeff Zucker, who was told by President Trump at a press meeting on Nov. 21, “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed.”
Zucker told the CPJ dinner that CNN “will hold the new administration’s feet to the fire and they should respect that even if they don’t welcome it.”
CPJ executive director Joel Simon, as quoted in the NYT Feb. 25, said Trump’s battle with the press “sets a terrible example for the rest of the world.”
CPJ Puts Press in the Balcony
The CPJ board, headed the past five years by Sandra Mims Rowe, former editor, Portland Oregonian, said CPJ was making an unprecedented foray into U.S. “politics” because “A Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”
But how does CPJ treat the journalists who try to cover it?
Pretty shabbily. Only one reporter from each medium is allowed, and they dine on sandwiches, potato chips and soft drinks in the balcony of the Waldorf-Astoria. They are not allowed on the ballroom floor where attendees get the finest in food, wine and liquor.
CPJ is beyond a doubt the richest journalist organization with net assets of $16.5 million before the 2016 dinner, which raised $1.75M. Attempts were made to block an O’Dwyer staffer from going to the pre-dinner cocktail party but she made her way into the room anyway. Phone calls and emails to CPJ staff are usually ignored.
The annual banquet is held on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving which cuts down on press coverage. The New York Times usually ignores the event except for a photo or two in its Sunday society section. However, given the Trump brouhaha, last year it bought a seat downstairs for editorial board member Carol Giacomo.
Seminar (ex-PR Seminar) Is Locked
A group of 200+ corporate and agency execs that has evaded press coverage for 65 years is Seminar, “PR Seminar” until 2007. Oddly, editors of more than two dozen media such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Yorker, The Economist, Barron’s, Business Week, Bloomberg, etc., have addressed it without one word of coverage ever hitting any of their news columns.
We have covered the group extensively over the years helped by various sources. Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who led the troops in Afghanistan, was the featured speaker in 2013. He became famous as the “runaway general” following a story in Rolling Stone.
Seminar now hosts a website open to the public, www.theseminar.biz, but what goes on during its four-day meetings each June at top resorts remains beyond the reach of the press.
PRSA Needs to Push Press Freedoms
Another sizable PR organization that needs an open door press policy is PR Society of America, represented at the Feb. 22 Page dinner by chair Jane Dvorak. Not present was CEO Joseph Truncale. For most of PRSA’s 70-year history, that title was with a career PR person. It needs to be returned.
The Society has not had a press conference since 1993. Reporters were barred from its annual Legislative Assembly from 2011-2013. When they were allowed back in 2014 at the meeting in Washington, D.C., they had to sign an agreement barring picture-taking or recording under pain of lifetime banishment.
The O’Dwyer Co. is not allowed to exhibit its five informational products at annual PRSA conferences and O’Dwyer reporters are barred from the exhibit hall This only scratches surface of the anti-press, anti-member, anti-New York practices at the Society. It has just signed a multi-million 10 or 15-year lease at 120 Wall St. without checking with members and thus far refuses to provide any details.
"Travel" costs for 2015 were $470,144. There has only been one PRSA national conference in New York since 1992, a span of 25 years, and none are planned. Why? Dozens of staffers get room, board and other costs for more than a week each year for the OOT meetings, not counting advance trips--all unnecessary if the meeting were in NYC. Over a ten-year-period, this is a waste of close to $5 million. The airline bill must be considerable.
Oddly unresponsive to questions and requests for interviews are the Society of Professional Journalists, ProPublica, and Politico. The New York Financial Writers Assn. has no room for working press at its annual “Follies.” Reporters who want to cover are told they can stand at the back of the room.
PR/Press Joint Effort Possible
The acceptance of a Page Center award by Time chief content officer Alan Murray signals a historic integration of PR and press.
Murray, who oversees editorial policies and standards at Time, Inc., and is also editor-in-chief of Fortune, said both PR and journalism deal in “the facts.”
A problem, said Murray, who previously spent two decades at the Wall Street Journal in high editorial posts, is that there is “no common currency of facts to form the basis for civil discourse, much less civic action, on any of the very real problems and issues that face our society.”
“We need institutions like the Arthur Page Center, that are dedicated to the truth and to the currency of facts, more than ever before,” he said.
Martin urged the PR industry to create a PR counterpart to the Ad Council that has created public interest campaigns for 75 years. Ellyn Fisher, SVP-PR and social media for the Ad Council, could assist in the formation of such an organization.
Text of Murray’s remarks is below:
Thank you for this magnificent award. It's such an honor to receive it and to receive it here among friends. And I do consider you friends. Some of my journalist colleagues think those of you in public relations are the enemy. But I’ve always felt that you and we are trading in the same currency—facts. You may withhold a fact every now and then, or pile up the facts so they tilt toward the storyline you are paid to present.
And I may assemble the facts in a way that suits my notion of the perfect narrative—which may be no closer to reality. But at the end of the day, we both deal in facts. And the facts are the facts.
Funny how a simple truism like that—the facts are the facts—sounds almost old-fashioned these days, like "dialing a telephone," or "checking the dictionary." Some even contend we live in a “post-fact” society.
Clearly, changes in the press have something to do with that. I trained in an organization that had standards of verification, fact checking, and fairness. But in the Internet age, everyone is a journalist, and common standards of the profession have declined.
Speed also has something to do with it. Our readers want news the instant it happens, not 24 hours later, and certainly not five days later. That leaves less time for checking the facts, making sure you have the story right.
Bias is an issue, too. The people who go into journalism are, as a group, generally to the left of the people who go into banking. It’s hard to escape that reality.
Then there is the fact that we editors no longer control your front page—your social media contacts do that. And guess what? Your friends tend to pass along headlines that have edge and bite to them and are more likely to ignore traditional, straight headlines and stories.
All that had happened before we entered the era of Trump. Now, we have a president who has an exceedingly loose relationship with facts—like whether President Obama was born in Kenya, or Muslims danced on the tops of buildings in New Jersey after 9-11, or he won more electoral votes than any president since Ronald Reagan.
Trump also has decided to make the press his enemy—“disgusting,” “corrupt,” “fake news,” he calls us. And he makes no distinction between those who have standards of verification and fairness and those who don’t. He baits us by throwing out incorrect facts and misguided notions several times a day, knowing we will take the bait and thus prove his point, over and over, that we are against him.
The result is that the great divide between those in this country who voted for Donald Trump and cheer now that he is doing exactly what he said he would do, and those who didn’t, is getting wider and deeper. And there is no common currency of facts to form the basis for civil discourse, much less civil action, on any of the very real problems or issues that face our society.
Now, I’m not sure I know what to do about this. If I did, I suspect it would take more than the six minutes I’ve been allotted tonight to address it.
But I do know this: we need institutions like the Arthur Page Center, that are dedicated to the truth and to the currency of facts, more than ever before. So I thank you for this, and I encourage you to keep it up.