Misplaced Outrage

November 11, 2014

by Dan Ward

I’ve written many times about free speech issues, and have shared concern here about Justice Department intrusions on the freedom of the press.

That said, I’m having a hard time defending the Associated Press in its latest dispute with the FBI.

In 2007, a 15-year-old in Washington state was making bomb threats and directing cyber attacks at a Seattle high school, and the FBI was having a difficult time tracking him down.

Having profiled the suspect as a narcissist, an FBI agent communicated online with him, posing as an AP reporter to ask if he would be willing to draft an article about the threats. The request included a link to a fake AP story that included tracking software, which led agents to the suspect.

The AP calls this an “unacceptable” action that “belittles the value of free press rights” and “corrodes … our independence from government control.” Huh?

As the FBI director points out, deception is a tool of law enforcement, and the only person interacting with the fake AP reporter or reading the fake AP story was a suspect threatening the bombing of a school.

Journalists have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the Justice Department. But they should save their outrage for genuine violations of the public trust.

Brace Yourself

November 5, 2014

by Roger Pynn

If you got up Wednesday feeling like the weight of the world was off your shoulders because the elections were over, think again.  Not only will you be reading and hearing and seeing post mortems ad nausea (why who won/lost/almost/nearly, etc.?), but this CNN interview with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proves the 2016 race began a long time ago … at least in the minds of newsheads.

Two minutes and 54 seconds into a post-election analysis with Christie he was being pushed to make an announcement of his intentions.

They can’t help themselves.  It is their crack.  It drives them to frenzy. And then they lash out at candidates and committees and parties for all the money they spend to win.

Perhaps it isn’t the politicians and their attack ads we should despise, but rather the junkies who stir the pot years in advance.

Those Were the Days

November 5, 2014

by Roger Pynn

When word flashed up on OrlandoSentinel.com that the dean of Orlando broadcast news had died, it was one of those “oh … no” moments.  Ben Aycrigg should be a role model for anyone who seeks entrance to your living room at 6 and 11 p.m.

He was kind to everyone he met.  He was truly interested in listening to people.  And it paid off because people wanted to give him their news … and they trusted him to treat it with respect.

ben aycriggwalter-01

It came as no surprise that when Googling for an image of Ben, the results included one of Walter Cronkite.  They were easily mistaken for each other, not by looks but because they were such quality journalists.

Tape of Ben’s newscasts would make a great prerequisite for a degree in broadcast journalism … or journalism for any medium, for that matter.

Every Day is Halloween

October 31, 2014

by Dan Ward

As I walked into my office this morning in my 70’s suit and ‘fro, I thought, “I wish every day were Halloween.”  But then, isn’t every day Halloween for a PR pro?

  • We constantly play the written equivalent of “dress up,” adapting our messaging and writing styles to fit the unique needs of our clients;
  • We put on outfits we never wear at home and knock on countless doors, asking for treats in the form of positive mentions;
  • When a crisis hits, we’re first through the doors of the haunted house/CEO office, when everyone else is saying “Don’t go in there;”
  • We rely on frequent hits of sugar just to keep us going through the next project; and,
  • We’ve grown adept at turning proverbial pumpkins into glowing, creative masterpieces.

I’m sure there are more examples to add to this list.  What say you, my fellow trick-or-treaters?

Can You Be Too Honest?

October 24, 2014

by Vianka McConville

I attended a Florida Public Relations Association Professional Development Workshop yesterday and left with one thought:  It’s so refreshing to hear someone who spoke with complete candor.

There were a number of interesting presentations and plenty of good nuggets of information to help me hone my skills in PR, but what impacted me most was the luncheon speaker from the ALS Association Florida.  She presented on the success of the recent Ice Bucket Challenge, but instead of just sharing the facts and, talking to the unpredictability of social media and viral content, she let us peer into a moment during that media frenzy that she considered a career low.

During a media interview, she let her guard down and made some completely honest remarks to a producer when she thought the camera had stopped rolling; instead, her candid words were misunderstood and became the focus of the story, not awareness of the disease.

She spoke of the situation with nothing to hide and you could see the room engaged, asking questions and wanting to hear more.  It was great to have a frank conversation in a room full of peers that are so often focused on walking the line of being politically correct.  There were no disparaging words, just honesty.

She said one thing she learned from the situation was that although the media is a great communication channel for sharing a message, you should never trust the media to tell your story the way YOU want it told.

As practitioners, we preach honesty and transparency with our audiences, including media.  That is still important, but after yesterday, I will be reminded that some honest words come with a price.

Side note:  If you want to learn more about ALS, please click here.  There is no cure for the disease and life expectancy is 2-5 years … with no survivors.

Rude Awakening

October 20, 2014

by Roger Pynn

I try not to judge a book by the cover, but I have to admit that I’m quick to draw conclusions by how much interest people have in ethics … especially how much emphasis a professional places on ethics in his or her line of work.

Over the years, I’ve focused a lot of time on ethics in public relations, committed time to our professional societies’ ethics programs, talked to student and professional groups on the topic and spent a good bit of time studying and collecting codes of ethics from various professional associations.

So when a friend asked if I would adapt the talk I deliver to PR groups for a breakout session when his industry trade association meeting held its North American meeting in Orlando, I said “Sure.  Be glad to.”  It gave me a chance to study yet another organization’s code, I’d be doing him a favor and I’d get to pontificate on how important I think it is to be true to basic beliefs you find in virtually all codes of ethics:  honesty and integrity, public service, defense of the public interest, fairness to competitors, etc.

When I got there I was surprised to see seating for as many as perhaps 200, even though I knew the entire conference was only a few hundred people … and he had told me it would likely be 20 or 30 people in the room.

It was even more surprising when it turned out to be five, plus the association board member who’d drawn the short straw and was assigned to introduce my session.  Now I’m not shooting at the trade group here and won’t name them.  But it told me something and I hope it said something to the association leaders in the room.

In fact, it seemed that at least three in the room were board members (although one was a past president who was giving a talk right after mine so she was perhaps there more for convenience than direct interest in the subject).  The good news is that four of the five were very engaged on the topic and knew their association’s code very well.

But you have to wonder about the rest.  Maybe the other topics of the day were far sexier than mine, I thought … but when I looked at the other topics (loss prevention, search engine optimization, surviving an audit, etc.) it wasn’t like I was competing with a George Clooney autograph session.

So why do I write this?  Not to complain, nor to embarrass myself for being the worst attended session, but rather as a reminder that if you’re a professional you ought to make your code of ethics and your commitment to it a point of pride and a marketing asset.  Your clients will not only respect you, you may just find you’ll be singled out by prospects looking for someone they know they can trust.

Time is the Best Medicine

October 16, 2014

by Roger Pynn

In recent years, websites for newspaper companies have been referred to by many as “online newspapers.”  But perhaps as this article about the digital transition going on at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel indicates, we should actually be referring to the print versions of these websites as “offline news websites.”

Even old folks like me who love their dailies have to know that the newspaper business can’t sustain itself with a focus on printed products.  For those of us who still cling to pulp, they are seeing newspapers as another advertising offering to entice advertisers who have made the transition to page views and clicks vs. circulation.

But as Sun Sentinel Associate Editor Anne Vasquez told The Poynter Institute’s Kristen Hare, “Quality has to stay as good, if not better.  If it doesn’t, then this digital initiative is a failure.”

However, she also said that what she calls the “new digital” requires new age journalists to “write as you go and write what you know.”

Therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to their credibility.  The rush to publish has become such a powerful motivating factor that error has become inevitable (if not acceptable) and reportage is suffering as the online movement often doesn’t have the time to be sure they’ve got it right.

In our business, time has taught us that time is the best preventative medicine.  Only when you rush do you make big mistakes.


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