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PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms

The shrinking ranks of print and broadcast reporters, along with the advent of the Internet, has handed the PR industry a historic advantage in shaping the news. Even original reporting bears the fingerprints of industry and government spinmeisters.

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A recent hearing held by the joint investigation board for the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 4, 2011. At the December hearings, New York Times investigative reporter David Barstow said there were more PR people representing those companies testifying than there were reporters in attendance. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel)

This story has been co-published with the Columbia Journalism Review.

The Gulf oil spill was 2010's biggest story, so when David Barstow walked into a Houston hotel for last December's hearings on the disaster, he wasn't surprised to see that the conference room was packed. Calling the hearing to order, Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen cautioned the throng, "We will continue to allow full media coverage as long as it does not interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair hearing and does not unduly distract from the solemnity, decorum, and dignity of the proceedings." It's a stock warning that every judge gives before an important trial, intended to protect witnesses from a hounding press. But Nguyen might have been worrying too much. Because as Barstow realized as he glanced across the crowd, most of the people busily scribbling notes in the room were not there to ask questions. They were there to answer them.

"You would go into these hearings and there would be more PR people representing these big players than there were reporters, sometimes by a factor of two or three," Barstow said. "There were platoons of PR people."

An investigative reporter for The New York Times, Barstow has written several big stories about the shoving match between the media and public relations in what eventually becomes the national dialogue. As the crowd at the hearing clearly showed, the game has been changing.

"The muscles of journalism are weakening and the muscles of public relations are bulking up -- as if they were on steroids," he says.

In their recent book, "The Death and Life of American Journalism," Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about .45 PR workers per 100,000 population compared with .36 journalists. In 2008, there were .90 PR people per 100,000 compared to .25 journalists. That's a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.

How much better?

The researcher who worked with McChesney and Nichols, R. Jamil Jonna, used census data to track revenues at public relations agencies between 1997 and 2007. He found that revenues went from $3.5 billion to $8.75 billion. Over the same period, paid employees at the agencies went from 38,735 to 50,499, a healthy 30 percent growth in jobs. And those figures include only independent public relations agencies -- they don't include PR people who work for big companies, lobbying outfits, advertising agencies, non-profits, or government.

Traditional journalism, of course, has been headed in the opposite direction. The Newspaper Association of America reported that newspaper advertising revenue dropped from an all-time high of $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009. That's right -- more than half. A lot of that loss is due to the recession. But even the most upbeat news executive has to admit that many of those dollars are not coming back soon. Six major newspaper companies have sought bankruptcy protection in recent years.

Less money means fewer reporters and editors. The American Society of News Editors found the number of newspaper reporters and editors hit a high of 56,900 in 1990. By 2011, the numbers had dropped to 41,600. Much of that loss has occurred since 2007. Network news did not fare any better -- the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that employment there is less than half of what it was in the peak period of the 1980s.

"I don't know anyone who can look at that calculus and see a very good outcome," said McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois.

The dangers are clear. As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it. "What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda," McChesney said. "We are entering a zone that has never been seen before in this country."

The First Modern PR Man

Modern public relations was born from a train wreck.

Michael Schudson, a journalism professor at Columbia University, CJR contributor, and author of "Discovering the News," said modern public relations started when Ivy Lee, a minister's son and a former reporter at the New York World, tipped reporters to an accident on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Before then, railroads had done everything they could to cover up accidents. But Lee figured that crashes, which tend to leave visible wreckage, were hard to hide. So it was better to get out in front of the inevitable story.

The press release was born. Schudson said the rise of the "publicity agent" created deep concern among the nation's leaders, who distrusted a middleman inserting itself and shaping messages between government and the public. Congress was so concerned that it attached amendments to bills in 1908 and 1913 that said no money could be appropriated for preparing newspaper articles or hiring publicity agents.

But World War I pushed those concerns to the side. The government needed to rally the public behind a deeply unpopular war. Suddenly, publicity agents did not seem so bad. Woodrow Wilson picked a former newspaperman, George Creel, to head his new Committee on Public Information in 1917. The group cranked out thousands of press releases in support of the war and started a speakers bureau that eventually grew to 75,000 people, all giving morale-boosting talks across the country.

"After the war, PR becomes a very big deal," Schudson said. "It was partly stimulated by the war and the idea of journalists and others being employed by the government as propagandists."

Many who worked for the massive wartime propaganda apparatus found an easy transition into civilian life. Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison and an early radio magnate, launched a campaign on behalf of electric utilities, which, according to Schudson, was the most far-reaching public relations effort of the era. It prompted an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and a new raft of angry reports about the increasing power of PR.

People "became more conscious that they were not getting direct access, that it was being screened for them by somebody else," Schudson said.

But there was no turning back. PR had become a fixture of public life. Concern about the invisible filter of public relations became a steady drumbeat in the press. From the classic 1971 CBS documentary, "The Selling of the Pentagon," warning that the military was using public relations tricks to sell a bigger defense budget, to reports that PR wizards had ginned up testimony about horrors in Kuwait before the first Gulf War, the theme was that spin doctors were pulling the strings.

Gary McCormick, former chairman of the Public Relations Society of America, said that was unfair. McCormick acknowledged that there have been PR abuses, but he said most public relations people try to steer clear of falsehood. And he makes a pretty logical argument: lying does not work, because you are almost always going to get caught. And when you do, it makes it worse for your client.

"If I burn you, I am out of business," said McCormick, whose organization has a membership of 21,000. He concedes that can be a tough message to relay to a client facing bad press. "The problem is when you get caught up with a client, and the business drives you to tell a message differently than you would advise," McCormick said.

McCormick is right: lies are not ubiquitous, and they are not the heart of the matter. The problem is that there is a large gray zone between the truth and a lie.

Eric Alterman, a professor at Brooklyn College and a columnist at The Nation, said skillful PR people can exploit this zone to great effect. "They are able to provide data that for journalistic purposes is entirely credible," he said. "The information is true enough. It is slanted. It is propagandistic. But it is not false."

PR Up -- Journalism Down

So what has changed? Isn't this article yet another in a long line of complaints, starting with Silas Bent's counting of stories generated by publicity agents in one day's issue of The New York Times in 1926 (174) or Peter Odegard's 1930 lament that "reporters today are little more than intellectual mendicants who go from one publicity agent or press bureau to another seeking 'handouts'"? It is, in a way. But the context has changed. Journalism, the counterweight to corporate and government PR, is shrinking.

"We are coming out of a period when news organizations were extraordinarily prosperous and able to insulate themselves from a lot of pressures," said Paul Starr, a sociology professor at Princeton University and author of "The Creation of the Media." "The balance of power has shifted."

When public relations began its ascent in the early 20th century, journalism was rising alongside it. The period saw the ferocious work of the muckrakers, the development of the great newspaper chains, and the dawn of radio and, later, television. Journalism of the day was not perfect; sometimes it was not even good. But it was an era of expansion that eventually led to the powerful press of the mid to late century.

Now, during a second rise of public relations, we are in an era of massive contraction in traditional journalism. Bureaus have closed, thousands of reporters have been laid off, once-great newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News have died.

The Pew Center took a look at the impact of these changes last year in a study of the Baltimore news market. The report, "How News Happens," found that while new online outlets had increased the demand for news, the number of original stories spread out among those outlets had declined. In one example, Pew found that area newspapers wrote one-third the number of stories about state budget cuts as they did the last time the state made similar cuts in 1991. In 2009, Pew said, The Baltimore Sun produced 32 percent fewer stories than it did in 1999.

Moreover, even original reporting often bore the fingerprints of government and private public relations. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director the Pew Center, said the Baltimore report concentrated on six major story lines: state budget cuts, shootings of police officers, the University of Maryland's efforts to develop a vaccine, the auction of the Senator Theater, the installation of listening devices on public busses, and developments in juvenile justice. It found that 63 percent of the news about those subjects was generated by the government, 23 percent came from interest groups or public relations, and 14 percent started with reporters.

An example: when the University of Maryland announced on July 22, 2009, that it would test the new swine flu vaccine, the university press release read this way: "The research is a first step toward the U.S. government's stated goal of developing a safe and effective vaccine."

The Daily Record newspaper in Maryland, Pew said, was first out with the story: "Research on the vaccine is the first step toward the U.S. government's aggressive goal of developing a vaccine for the virus."

Tom Linthicum, executive editor of The Daily Record, said that first story reflected the reality of the Internet age. "It's kind of like working for the wire services in the old days," he said. "You write the short lede to get it up there first. You come back the next day and flesh it out."

Linthicum said the vaccine story, while important, was not really in The Daily Record's typical coverage area -- the paper is more business-oriented. "We came back and fleshed it out some; frankly, we did not flesh it out a lot," he said. "I think we did with it about what we could given our other priorities."

This is not terrible. It is a decision that editors make every day. But, as Pew points out, it does hand a lot of control over the narrative to the institution that is peddling the story.

Of the 19 stories Pew reviewed that covered the development of the vaccine, three contained significant new information, another three had new details, and the rest either repeated the same basic facts as the press release or were identical stories appearing on a different platform. "One of the key findings of the study was that as the press scales back, dissemination of other people's work becomes a more important part of the news system," Jurkowitz said. "There is also a greater emphasis on time, on speed, on getting the first bit of information up quickly. Often that first bit of information is coming from government agencies or public relations."

Of course, in the modern world, news does not stay in one place for long. Stories may begin on a newspaper blog or a TV website, but they soon ripple across the Internet like a splash in a pond. Tom Rosenstiel, Pew's director, said that ripple effect makes the original story that hits the web -- and the source of information it is based on -- even more important.

"The nature of digital technology is that it is distributive," he said. "A story would be grabbed and distributed and when the original story is later updated, other versions out there might not be. It all depends on when someone grabs it."

Some experts have argued that in the digital age, new forms of reporting will eventually fill the void left by traditional newsrooms. But few would argue that such a point has arrived, or is close to arriving. "There is the overwhelming sense that the void that is created by the collapse of traditional journalism is not being filled by new media, but by public relations," said John Nichols, a Nation correspondent and McChesney's co-author. Nichols said reporters usually make some calls and check facts. But the ability of government or private public relations to generate stories grows as reporters have less time to seek out stories on their own. That gives outside groups more power to set the agenda.

PR Goes Direct

Leonard Downie Jr., who was executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years, does not believe that reporters working for reputable organizations are going to let PR people dictate their stories, no matter how busy they get.

"Observing our own newsroom" at the Post, "I don't see a difference in the way people are working," said Downie, who is now a professor at Arizona State University and vice president at large of the Post. "In addition to talking to PR people, both in government and in business, our reporters want to talk to principals all the time. I don't see a change in that relationship."

What Downie does see is a change in the relationship between PR and the public itself. The Internet makes it easy for public relations people to reach out directly to the audience and bypass the press, via websites and blogs, social media and videos on YouTube, and targeted email.

"Let's take a hypothetical situation in which there had been no reduction in the media; at the same time, there still would be growth in the ability of public relations people to directly reach the public," Downie said. "They are filling a space that has been created digitally."

Some quick examples: in the academic world, the website Futurity regularly offers polished stories from research universities across the country like "Gems Clear Drug Resistance Hurdle" (Northwestern University) and "Algae Spew Mucus to Alter Sea Ice" (University of Washington); on the business front, Toyota used satellite press conferences and video feeds on its website to respond to allegations about sudden acceleration in its cars last year, and published transcripts on its website of a long interview with reporters at the Los Angeles Times; and in the realm of political advocacy, Media Matters for America led a battle across the Internet for the past several months with the anti-abortion group Live Action over a videotaped sting that Live Action did on Planned Parenthood.

In a vacuum, none of this is bad. Schools need to publicize their research, corporations defend their products, and political groups stake their positions. But without the filter provided by journalists, it is hard to divide facts from slant.

It's also getting tougher to know when a storyline originates with a self-interested party producing its own story. In 2005 and 2006, the New York Times and the advocacy group PR Watch did separate reports detailing how television news was airing video news releases prepared by corporate or government PR offices, working them into stories as part of their newscasts. PR Watch listed 77 stations which aired the reports, some of them broadcast nearly verbatim.

Stacey Woelfel, the past-chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said when his group looked into the issue after it was raised by the reports, it was troubled by how widespread the use of the releases had become. "Some stations were running video news releases all the time, sometimes packages from corporate interests," he said.

There is evidence that it has not stopped. James Rainey, the Los Angeles Times media columnist, recently won Penn State's Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism for columns last year that showed how local television stations were running paid content in their news programs. "There's a good chance that your small screen expert has taken cash to sell, sell, sell," Rainey wrote in a Sept. 15 column.

In 2008, the New York Times again returned to the issue of hidden public relations agendas with a series of stories in which Barstow showed how the Pentagon was using retired military officers to deliver the military's message on the war in Iraq and its counterterrorism efforts. Barstow described how the officers were presented on the news programs as independent consultants offering unvarnished opinions.

After being stonewalled by the Pentagon for two years, the Times eventually sued to obtain records about the Defense Department's use of retired military officers. Barstow found evidence that the officers' appearances on television were not happenstance, but a carefully coordinated effort of what the Pentagon called "message force multipliers."

Barstow was struck by the sophistication of the operation. "In a world saturated with spin, viewers tend to tune out official spokespeople and journalists," he said. "Where they are influenced is when they see people who are perceived to be experts in the subject matter but independent of the government and the media."

Front Groups Obscure Special Interests

Hiding the PR agenda is not a new tactic, but one that seems to be rising to new levels. One form it takes is front groups, supporting this cause or that, this candidate or that, this product or that, without revealing their ties to the cause, candidate, or product.

Jane Mayer focused national attention on such groups in an encyclopedic article about the Koch brothers last summer in The New Yorker. The article described how the Kochs had funded groups to promote their conservative political philosophy and oppose "so many Obama Administration policies -- from heath-care reform to the economic-stimulus program -- that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus."

Mayer said one of the most difficult tasks in reporting the story was finding the connections between the groups and their funders. Many people and organizations besides the Kochs fund advocacy groups, and from both ends of the political spectrum. Mayer said it takes so much effort to find out what group is connected with what organization that it is difficult for reporters to keep up.

"You never know what you don't know -- it is getting harder and harder to find out who is behind those front groups," she said. That is no accident, according to Wendell Potter, a former vice president for corporate communications at CIGNA, the insurance company.

Potter, who has since become a vocal critic of corporate public relations, particularly related to the health-care debate, said PR's influence has become deliberately more opaque as viewers become more attuned to its influence. During the debate over the Clinton health-care plan in 1993 and 1994, Potter said, the health-insurance industry's trade group openly opposed the measure. In a series of ads featuring Harry and Louise, the fictional married couple, the industry warned that the Clinton plan would mire health care in tangled bureaucracy. The industry's role in the ad, he said, "was very visible, very vocal."

The industry's opposition to the bill reflected the public's concern at the time about government interference in health care, Potter said. But by 2007, public opinion had changed and polls showed that a majority of Americans felt that some degree of government involvement was needed.

Thus, Potter said, the industry no longer wanted to be closely linked to lobbying on the issue. So instead of directly running ads, it farmed a lot of the work out, obscuring its role.

"You really want someone that seems to be an ordinary person. That gives you credibility and the perception that the public is on your side," he said.

The health-insurance industry's trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans or AHIP, declined to speak for this story. But executives with the public relations firm APCO Worldwide, which has worked for the health-care industry, said that when their agency sets up a group to fight for an issue, they don't try to hide their association. B. Jay Cooper, APCO's managing director, said in the recent health-care fight APCO managed such a group, but every reporter who covered the issue knew who APCO represented. That doesn't mean the link was always reported to the public.

Indeed, it is often difficult for reporters to find the connection. It took Drew Armstrong, a health-care reporter for Bloomberg, months to nail stories showing how the health-insurance industry had funded efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fight against changing the health system.

Armstrong dug into tax records to show what had previously been hidden -- that AHIP contributed a whopping $86.2 million to the Chamber to fight against the Obama health-care plan. "I was shocked by the amount," Armstrong said. "It was 40 percent of the Chamber's budget."

The problem for Armstrong was that neither organization's filings proved a link. There was no definite proof that it was the same money. The IRS forms filed by the groups are pretty scanty -- they require organizations to list donations but not the donor -- and Armstrong had to work with sources to confirm the connection.

It took a while for Armstrong to establish the link, but he did so in a Nov. 17, 2010, story. Neither group would confirm that it was the same money -- the Chamber still won't -- but no one called for a correction.

"Giving money to the Chamber lets you have it both ways," Armstrong said. "You can sit with the Democrats, lobby for your position, and have your phone calls returned. At the same time, you have someone like the Chamber out there, running ads, doing the public relations campaign."

After his first story, Armstrong looked into how the Chamber used the money. He found that it set up a sophisticated operation to oppose the law, particularly in swing states. The Chamber paid for ads that ran in 21 states beginning in August of 2009. The ads warned that the government-proposed plan would lead to tax increases, swell the deficit, and expand "government control over your health."

Bill Vickery, who Bloomberg said was paid by the Chamber to help run the opposition in Arkansas, told Armstrong that he organized about 50 events targeting incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who was a key supporter of the health-care law. Lincoln lost by 21 percent in last November's midterm elections.

"I talked to a lot of consultants, pollsters," Armstrong said. "They said this was one of the most sophisticated operations, akin to a presidential campaign, that they had ever worked on."

Steve Patterson, the Lincoln campaign manager, said most of the ad money for the health-care fight actually hit the state the year before the midterm election while the battle over the Democratic plan was in full cry. "Most of it was educational in nature," he said. "Call Sen. Lincoln and tell her to vote no."

But Patterson knew early on that the heath-care fight was likely to be the defining issue of the Senate race, and many of the ads were already targeting Lincoln's position in favor of change to the health-care system. So he asked the campaign's ad buyer to track the spending. They found $6 million in issue advertising was spent during the period -- a very large amount in a small media market state.

From October to early December, Lincoln's buyer found that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $2 million in advertising. Americans for Stable Healthcare -- a coalition of liberal groups, the pharmaceutical industry, and unions in favor of the plan -- spent $1.2 million. And the 60 Plus Association, a conservative senior citizen group opposed to the plan, spent $650,000.

"I think it was the critical issue that turned voters against Sen. Lincoln," he said. "Her numbers started turning when this process began."

Tom Collamore, who ran Fred Thompson's presidential campaign before becoming senior vice president of communications and strategy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, likened a modern issue campaign to a presidential race. "There are all the elements," he said. "You test the message and then you push the message out through all the outlets."

"If you are really serious about something you have to make a big investment," Collamore continued. "It involves research and focus groups and proper messaging that will lead to highlighting things that resonate."

In the heath-care battle, the Chamber created a web hub, healthreformimpacts.com, to continue the fight. It set up coalition groups like Employers for a Healthy Economy. Collamore said much of the effort also involved old-fashioned PR work as well. "We did a lot of online pushing of the message through stories, columns," he said. "A lot of interaction with the press, a lot of interviews."

Although the fight over health care was larger than most campaigns, Collamore said it was not fundamentally different than several other public relations efforts the Chamber is working on.

One of the largest is the Chamber's $100 million "Campaign for Free Enterprise," an effort to fight government involvement in business matters. Besides the traditional effort of advertising, press releases, and position papers, the Chamber has set up groups like Students in Free Enterprise and the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour to target college campuses.

It's also making an online push. The Chamber kicked off part of the campaign with $100,000 in prize money for a video contest on its Facebook page. The campaign received 100,000 views, recorded 10,000 votes, and collected 4,000 email addresses to add to the Chamber's database. Right now, it has 146,000 fans -- not Lady Gaga level (more than 30 million at press time) but not bad for a business group.

"The news cycle never ends. There is a lot of space, there is a lot of competition for people's attention," Collamore said. "It's not just press releases anymore."

Steven L. Lubetkin APR Fellow PRSA

May 2, 2011, 5:01 a.m.

It’s important to note that the major professional associations for public relations, such as the Public Relations Society of America, do have codes of professional standards that prohibit members from setting up “front” organizations for clients where disclosure of the organization behind the group is not made. Unfortunately, not all practitioners of PR ascribe to the codes, nor do the codes have any effective teeth for enforcement of any sanctions against those who violate them.

Emma Costello

May 2, 2011, 5:25 a.m.

This is exactly why I left the profession not long after I had spent years at university studying to be part of.

My theory behind good public relations is good business ethics. ‘If you’re not happy to see what your business does put out for the public to see, you shouldn’t be doing it’ was what I would always tell potential employers, which they would all nod and agree to, hire me, then ask me to cover things up to maintain face.

I found the industry to be false, and the perception of it’s professionals as spin doctors was quite offensive to me. I now work in project management and enjoying not being asked to lie through my teeth to earn a paycheck.

Lobbyists are running things, not PR people or the press. See story below.—Jack O’Dwyer
Monday, May 2. 2011 (http://www.odwyerpr.com)
Bloomberg Battles Sugar; Lobbyists Splurge
Attacks on sugar proliferated last week including a renewed campaign by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop food stamp recipients (now a record 41 million nationwide) from using stamps to buy “sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Bloomberg’s aims were covered in a 1,100-word article in the (Sat.) April 30 New York Times.

Sugar content should be graphically depicted on the front of soda cans.
Banned would be any drinks with more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving.

Twelve-ounce cans of Coke and Pepsi have 150 calories or ten teaspoons of sugar (15 calories per teaspoon).

Come to think of it, since youth (a principal target of the soda companies) is so graphics-minded and soda companies profess a policy of openness, containers should show sugar content in terms of readily understandable teaspoons of sugar. They can keep showing their calorie, carbohydrate and gram counts (in the usual minuscule type) but should show either a sizable picture of ten teaspoons in the case of Coke & Pepsi or a picture of one big spoon with the number “10” on it and “sugar” underneath it.

That would get across the amounts of sugar involved.

Excess sugar in drinks turns into fat if not burned quickly.

Lobbying Budgets Zoom

While both Coke and Pepsi have “do-good” Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs under way (“Live Positively” for Coke and “Performance with Purpose” at Pepsi), their lobbyists are spending record amounts to block taxes on soda across the nation.

The American Beverage Assn., supported by Coke, Pepsi and others, spent $12.9 million to fight the soda tax proposed by former Governor David Paterson in 2010.

ABA was the biggest New York lobbyist, outspending the United Fed. of Teachers, No. 2 at $7.8M, said NYPIRG, a reform group. Total state lobbying spending was a record $210M, up from $198M in the previous year and a far cry from the $80M spent in 2001.


D.C. Spending ‘Super-Sized’


Proposed federal taxes on sugary drinks in 2009 caused Galen Reser, Pepsi VP-government affairs, to say that they are"one of the biggest public policy threats the company has ever seen.”

The ABA nationally spent $9.9 million on lobbying in 2010, according to reports filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

ABA SVP Kevin Keane old the NYT April 30 that “Once you start going into grocery carts, deciding what people can or cannot buy, where do you stop?”

Bloomberg said he wants food stamp users to buy “foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.”

The benefits are paid by the Federal Government and are administered by the Agriculture Dept.

The NYT said President Obama’s position on the New York plan is “unclear” and that it puts him in “an awkward situation.” First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity program calls for Americans to “drink less soda or sugar-sweetened drinks.”

New York officials say sugary drinks are the single biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic. They are marketed heavily to children who acquire a lifelong “sweet tooth,” say the critics.

Athlete endorsements and “brilliant” coloring help to “hook” the children, they add.

President Obama has said that Americans drink “way too much soda” and that taxing soda is “an idea that we should be exploring.”


PR a ‘No Show’ in NYT Article


The NYT sought comment from Susan Davidson, Kraft director of corporate affairs, and Kirstie Foster, General Mills director of corporate PR. Both refused.

Kraft products include, besides cheese and candy (Cadbury), Kool-Aid and Oreo cookies.

Davidson sent the NYT to the Food Research and Action Center and Foster suggested the Grocery Mfrs. Assn.

Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the GMA, referred questions to two other trade groups, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Grocers Assn., both of which object to Bloomberg’s proposal.

Nationally, 12.5 million children and teens or 16.9% are “obese,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

James B Storer

May 2, 2011, 2:47 p.m.

This is a t truly great report, and well timed.  I hope related reports follow, as this report covers a lot of ground.  Ordinarily, debate between news reporting and PR are important, but not culture threatening.  Not so, today.  This report covers subjects that portend hair-raising consequences.  In this comment I concentrate on one subject:  The anticipated result of two recent Supreme Court rulings and the subsequent effect on PR and corporate decision making and operations.  Mark Ames and Mike Elk in “The Nation” (sorry, I lost the date) obtained a copy of “Koch Industries Election Packet for Washington State.”  The packet included a cover letter of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates.
  This action by Koch Industries no longer rides the dark side of legality, thanks to recent (and destructive) Supreme Court rulings granting first amendment free speech rights and awarding “personhood” to corporations.  All this clears the way for the top person or group of any and all of our corporations to go into the workplace with fliers, posters, letters, etc., for the purpose of persuading, intimidating, and coercing the employees to vote the correct “way.”  This, coupled with large concentrations of money in the corporations (for lobbying and funding political candidates), pretty well annihilates what “one man, one vote” equality you think is still active in the election process.
  These political operations by the corporation in the workplace puts even more pressure on true newsgathering operations, as the “PR” can more easily rebut what legitimate newsgathering services furnish.    Skartishu, Granby MO

As a long-time journalist, it has been my experience that most news is driven by events, and, unfortunately, press releases are considered events by most reporters. Reporters have always been more reactive than proactive. Even in the recent halcyon days a decade ago, reporters in the herd were always clamoring for the latest press release—and boasting of their access to get the release before the competition. And, as you may have experienced, seeking a response from a subject, i.e. a release, after digging up a story, often slow rolls mainstream reporters from publication or broadcast.

Barbara Schieber

May 2, 2011, 4:46 p.m.

ProPublica ROCKS!!!!!
You people have done an incredible job, congratulations on the Publitzers, but even more so for being a voice in the media desert.

P.R., advertisers, lobbyists… They’re all tools for big multinational corporations.

In August 2004, former surgeon general Richard Carmona came to Portland to address the City Club. While he had grave concerns about the obesity epidemic, he did not believe that the federal government should intervene. He was reluctant to endorse local policies (such as eliminating soda pop machines that subsidize schools) and instead advised we create solutions with corporate sponsors such as Nike and Kraft. Yes, Kraft! Is it no wonder that Nestle wants to cash-in with satiety-inducing foods? http://tinyurl.com/3hykgbm

Such is the free market! Create unhealthy, processed, “hyperpalatable” foods of the Western diet and follow with pseudoscience (“nutritionism” as Michael Pollan calls it) to boggle our brain about what we should do.

That way we all forget that agribusiness and marketing are the real culprits in as we merrily consume years off our lives.

Oh, goodness, did I forget that we have PhRMA and lap-bands at our disposal?

Watch Morgan Spurlock‘s “Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold!

This is an outstanding article and exposure of something that most don’t think about or even consider.

The populus in this country is so controlled by the likes of Dancing with the Stars and Charlie Sheen, most wouldn’t know or even recognize PR from News.

Fox cable news has so fooled this nation of fools that it will take a major disaster to wake them up, if that is even possible.

Donald Trump is the perfect Pied Piper and the GOP has him at the top of their list to be the next President. What does this alone say about the mental state of the average citizen.

Education is not even the issue anymore, smelling salts is more to the point.

Trubee, you are a prime example of the problem.  Here you are, spewing out the latest example of the circus barkers’ Narrative.  Oooooo. Donald Trump.  You are such a tool, and if after Bush you can’t see how the “media” narrative is focused on Obama, the latest anointed one, there is no hope or change for any of us.

Daniel Robert Snodgrass

May 2, 2011, 9:14 p.m.

The bones of all advocates for human rights were breaking, by the time many journalists found the neck muscles to stop blogging about themselves to look around the room.

The shrinking newsrooms saw mergers, co-mingling and bankruptcy, as well, many unions.

I have doubts that the voices of many, can outweigh the wealthy voices of the corporate.

The catch with a lack of journalism is, those ‘News’ sites that basically rely on PR=B$ (lies for profit) for their stories, are basically selling what little public trust they have and, will never be able to rebuild it.
Advertising as ‘News’ is having it’s trust rapidly eaten away by the internet which has the ability to keep a news story alive indefinitely and eventually expose the truth and the liars.
This creates an inevitable dilemma for PR=B$ where will they be able to publish their lies once all the advertising as ‘News’ have gone belly up and the remaining investigative factual news sites are unwilling to publish their lies because it will inevitably poison their subscriber numbers.
The PR=B$ hacks can’t create their own fake news site because it needs to build trust by investigating and reporting the truth creating inevitable conflict with other PR=B$ agencies.
Multiple independent resources that communicate digitally with direct local sources are the new investigative kick off. This is followed up with real investigative journalist visit where deeper analysis is required still making use of the local sources (often kept secret).
Distributive reporting is casting a wider hidden net that remains in place, often creating a bigger story out of the PR=B$ lies, than the truth that they tried to cover up.

I read with interest this article. I, for one, believe it’s not PR people that are shaping public opinion; it’s the lobbyists. As a PR person, one abides by a strict code of ethics that does not allow one to “lie” on behalf of a client. As a PR person for a community hospital, I feel my main role is to facilitate communication and information exchange between publics, including internal and external audiences. I am not here to lie, cheat or stretch the story.

I feel part of the issue here is the fact that PR is still largely a misunderstood industry. Folks still think of us as “spin doctors.” True PR is anything but.

Kerri, your response was in good faith but unfortunately your response and no doubt your occupation, is based upon a certain amount of brainwashing by the people that sit on the board of directors at your hospital and in other big business. And, those directors may not have the public’s best interest at heart.

What has happened in America since the dawn of a computer’s ability to make every working person responsible for their deeds, everyone now stands alone as a separate entity, within an entity.

This is not completely true in your position in a hospital,  but hospitals are no longer charity cases, they have to stay financially afloat or they get closed. Whether you know it or not,  you have been guided in a certain direction to relate certain issues to the public. Those issue could be good for the public or bad, you don’t know because you are not privy to your employers 5 year or 10 year plan.

You are in training to be a lobbyist. Lobbyiests don’t necessarilly lie, what they do is promote their board of director’s point of view. As our congress is now a “money driven” entity thanks to the Supreme Court, money changes hands.

If you think for one minute that your board of directors wouldn’t be willing to “grease” a politician to get their way on an issue, you are living in a dream world.

I enjoyed reading your response because seldom do people with your limited view of the world take the time to write to this blog.

Keep the faith but keep your eyes open and seek reality not rationality…

Nancy Gleason

May 3, 2011, 9:50 a.m.

Thanks for another great article.  I wonder if Associated Press and other reliable, news vetting organizations, have increased their staffs.  It’s more important than ever to have non-profit news organizations we can trust like BBC.  I also read Washington Post and NY Times for major news that I feel is reliable.  Please keep up the good work and grow your staff!

Margaret Ganong

May 3, 2011, 10:33 a.m.

Thank you, ProPublica and John Sullivan, for this timely analysis of what is wrong in the world of journalism. For three years, I have been observing with a combination of disbelief and sadness as the US media has bought—hook, line and sinker—a PR firm’s spin and narrative on a tragic murder case in Italy. The victim, Meredith Kercher from the UK, has been all but forgotten by the American media in its rush to repeat the talking points and narrative fleshed out and spoon fed by the PR firm hired by the family and allied interests of the female American student who was one of three convicted of the slaying.

The case is currently on automatic appeal in Italy (there are two rounds of appeal, and both the prosecution and defense are appealing in this case, the prosecution for a harsher sentence), and the PR effort has stepped into high gear, desperately seeking to get the American public to buy into the notion of an innocent abroad, railroaded by an archaic system of justice and a “corrupt” prosecutor.

The PR firm and its small but aggressive band of internet supporters, part of a manufactured “grassroots” campaign for innocence, have even targeted the few American journalists based in Italy who have valiantly resisted the pressure from the PR supertanker and tried to report the facts of the case without resorting to the talking points and spin. They are vilified on the web as “yellow journalists” and accused of being part of a “hate campaign”.

Watching this process unfold has been truly eye-opening for me. By the way, I have deliberately avoided using the name of the convicted American student, preferring the name of the victim. The convicted murderer on appeal has garnered far more publicity than she deserves, in my opinion. The victim’s family has taken the high road, and is quietly seeking closure in spite of the din of the PR-generated media circus that paints one of their daughter’s killers as a minor celebrity.

It’s that darned First Amendment again…let’s get rid of that and our PR problem goes away!

The media, especially with their recent cutbacks, would be seriously short of content without PR people. There was a study done a number of years ago which found that a sizeable percentage of stories appearing in the Wall Street Journal originated from PR story pitches. 

It’s fine to criticize unethical PR people and corporations, and special interest groups that lack transparency.  But it’s not PR’s fault that the landscape has changed and that traditional media haven’t adapted very well.  Mainstream media, especially newspapers, have done a poor job of appealing to younger audiences, both in content and delivery.  They also haven’t done a very good job of understanding the impact of online advertising and how to sell it.  They haven’t figured out that bringing a newspaper to a customer’s front porch every day is a costly and unsustainable model.  They haven’t quite understood that busy young families don’t have time to sit down and watch the evening news, so that the naming of Katy Couric’s replacement really doesn’t matter any more. 

In short, a lot of media organizations haven’t been very well managed.  They know how to cut alright, but they don’t know how to grow.  And when they don’t grow, the vacuum gets filled by something else, whether it’s social media, advertising, direct-to-consumer PR or another form of communication.  So let’s lay off PR for a change.  It’s not the fault of PR people that traditional media have become too weak, badly managed and underfunded to have enough serious skin in the game.

As someone who was once a journalist and has high regard for the profession (at least as it used to be practiced), it makes me sad to see this kind of decline.  But if media corporations and managers want someone to blame, they need to look in the mirror and not blame the same PR people who keep their content machines chugging along.

Ms. Ganong forgets to mention that the descent of the international media upon the family of the “female American student” (Amanda Knox) played a direct role in her family seeking protection from the onslaught. 

A PR firm with international connections has been guiding Amanda’s family through the mire of press while acting as a much needed and welcome buffer.

This type of PR,necessary for persons who find themselves in a position to seek such protection, is not what your article is referring to.  The Knox family is not journalists using a PR firm for spin in an article or story.

The Knox family is trying to protect their daughter and have Every Right to use whatever means are at their disposal.  The decision to use a PR firm came after their privacy was invaded many times and became a distraction from Amanda’s well being.

Gogerty Marriott allowed Amanda’s family to focus on her, while they PR firm handled the press.  What parent would not do the same?

The Knox family has not sought ‘celebrity,’ minor or otherwise, for Amanda, but were forced to speak out on her behalf when the international press began spewing the lies created by prosecutor Mignini. 

The same lies that Ms. Ganong continually holds up as “evidence.”

Ms. Ganong also neglects to mention that she moderates a website that has targeted Amanda and her family for 3 1/2 years.  By some accounts, it is considered a Hate Group and has been reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime unit for stalking Amanda’s minor siblings as such. 

Perugia Murder File also targets and demeans members of the several online advocacy groups alluding that we are being paid by the Knox family’s PR firm, Gogerty Marriott. 

Nothing could be further from he truth. 

It is truly unbelievable that Ms. Gangong can pretend to be abhorrent of PR when that is exactly what she is doing to the Knox family, facilitating bad PR.

All Three students, Meredith, Amanda and Raffaele, have been wronged by the Perugian court system. 

Amanda and Raffaele’s supporters hope one day to see the injustices corrected.  That Meredith be allowed to rest in peace knowing that her friends have been freed from unjust incarceration.

Ms Ganong and her ilk will take every opportunity to push their hateful agenda.  We are so if sorry they have bothered you.

Margaret Ganong

May 3, 2011, 12:51 p.m.

The media long since stopped descending on the Knox family. I have no intention of turning this into a discussion of the case. I presume people are smart enough to judge thefor themselves. Check out the Gogerty/Stark/Marriott PR firm website for its own presentation of the PR work it has done in this instance.

There has been some good reporting on this case in spite of the PR pressure; the BBC comes to mind, as do the Daily Beast, the Times of London. But most of it is press-release driven and counterfactual. I stand by my first email on all points raised.

I apologize for inciting a swarm of Knox apologists. As you can see, the faux “grassroots” campaign is well organized. I neglected to mention the message board I moderate because it is irrelevant to the debate here. I think the content and tone of my initial post make it clear enough where I stand on the question of guilt or innocence. One of the key components of the US PR effort is to paint message boards, blogs and honest journalists who have reported the facts as “haters” and “guilters”. That too is well-documented on the internet and I trust people are quite capable of judging for themselves.

Keep up the good work, Propublica.

Doug Bremner

May 3, 2011, 1:19 p.m.

The truth is that the Knox case is one of the worst examples of failed journalism of the current era. The Daily Beast reporting and the book that came out of it were prime examples. Now it is coming to light how many untruths were leaked to the press, the missing bleach, the non-bloody bloody footprint, the fake eye witnesses, the staged break in that was never staged. The list goes on and on.

Sean McDermott

May 3, 2011, 1:52 p.m.

Thank you for a truly in-depth look at the power of PR. It isn’t that PR is bad for journalism. Media companies are too large. They are conglomerates with their own team of spin doctors. Their size is now leading to their demise. Companies of all sizes now depend on story-tellers (PR practitioners) to reach and inform their audience of valuable information. Large media is failing and the individuals are filling in the gaping holes on their own.

There is truth and falsities no matter where you look in the world. The immediacy of information dissemination makes it easier to find the latter. Good PR practitioners know the value of being trusted. It is their job to ensure honest information and show results from it. It is also their job to refuse to fill their work with lies.

It honestly comes down to the basics of food, shelter and safety. Journalism is a hard way to provide those things in life anymore. If the public would find a way to pay the reporters, then they would be a better informed public.

Karen Pruett

May 3, 2011, 1:54 p.m.

Fancy Ms. Ganong apologizing for inciting ‘swarming’ by people reacting to her continual PR Campaign of smearing Miss Knox (who is clearly a victim of a corrupt court system and not a murderess) when this is part of her agenda.  To garner a response from people like me, an ordinary person compelled to defend my friends whenever possible.  What friend would NOT help in any way they could?

It is also clear who showed up in the comments FIRST and set out her agenda.

And it is clear that prosecutor Mignini and the American hate sites, Perugia Murder File and True Justice for Meredith Kercher, have a gigantic head start on the Kercher, Knox and Sollecito family supporters in their concerted efforts to spread hateful lies on as many blogs and commentaries as possible. 

It is their success in this aspiration that highlights their hateful PR Campaign.  But we are coming from behind, slow and steady.  So they have now hatched the latest scheme to call us a “Multi-million dollar PR Campaign.”    *eyes rolling*

In their single-minded devotion to spreading the lies and misinformation of the Perugian court, they have indeed crated their own worst enemies.

Myself and my associates.  We will always be there, dogging their steps.  Unpaid.  Independent.  Honest.  Truthful. 

And backed by an ever growing association of professionals from the science and law enforcement community who are exposing the great number of laws broken by the Perugian court.

Now there’s a “PR” firm for you.

Bruce Fisher

May 3, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

I don’t see any need for the comment made by Billy Bob and I hope that his comment is removed from this discussion. We don’t need to be vicious to expose Margaret Ganong’s true intentions. This article points out the changes we have all seen in recent years when it comes to reporting the news. These issues are of great importance and this is an excellent article. Unfortunately Ms. Ganong has failed to see the actual goal of this article and instead has taken the opportunity to push her own agenda. Ms. Ganong’s insinuation that a public relations campaign overwhelmed accurate reporting on the Meredith Kercher murder case is not untrue, but Ms. Ganong is targeting the wrong side. The campaign to manipulate the media came from the prosecution’s office very early on. It has been well documented that misinformation was leaked about Amanda Knox that deeply influenced public opinion. Ms. Ganong runs a website that continues to promote the campaign of misinformation about Amanda Knox and her supporters.

Ms. Ganong’s website has an ongoing campaign of misinformation that I have been a direct target of. Her website pushes the lie that I am not a real person,  Ms. Ganong has told repeated lies stating that I harassed a teenage blogger, and she claims that I have libeled her even though I have documentation to back up everything I write. Ms. Ganong is trapped in her own words. To show Ms. Ganong’s apparent obsession with me, her current avatar on her website is intended to mock me. She claims that the media has forgotten about Meredith Kercher. The truth is Ms. Ganong dedicates more time to her enemies than she does to Meredith Kercher, all on a website that claims to exist for the sole purpose of preserving Meredith’s memory.  I am not bothered by Ms. Ganong’s childish attacks on me, I do find her constant attacks on the Knox family infuriating.

Ms. Ganong’s website steals facebook photos from Amanda’s family and supporters, her website mocks Amanda’s family constantly, including Amanda’s youngest sisters. Her website holds photo caption contests to see who can come up with the most derogatory captions for Amanda’s family members, Her website even went as far as to post a photo collage of Amanda’s sister crying throughout the course of the trial.

Ms. Ganong’s website will target anyone or any group that disagrees with their position. They have targeted many credible people including but certainly not limited to; author and journalist, Candace Dempsey,  author Douglas Preston, retired FBI Agent Steve Moore, attorney Anne Bremner (sadly destroying their friendship), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a group that works tirelessly to protect the well being of journalists around the world. There are many more, these are just a few of the recent targets of Ms. Ganong’s website.

I have labeled Ms. Ganong’s website a hate site. I feel they have spewed enough hatred to earn that title. I would hope that readers here will not be sidetracked by Ms. Ganong’s attempt to push her agenda.

This is an excellent discussion and I deplore the fact that Ms. Ganong has tried to kidnap it to push a self-interested agenda. The journalists who she praise are personal friends of hers and among the worst to comment on the Knox-Sollecito case. The idea that a tiny Seattle PR firm could generate the following analysis and commentary is absurd on the face of it:

US Sen. Maria Cantwell ( Democrat Washington)
“The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty.”

Doug Preston (Author, journalist, and commentator for CBS )
“This is a case based on lies, superstition, and crazy conspiracy theories and that’s it”

Paul Ciolino (private investigator retained by CBS)
“This is a lynching ... this is a lynching that is happening in modern day Europe right now and it’s happening to an American girl who has no business being charged with anything.”

Tim Egan (NY Times correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner)
“The case against Knox has so many holes in it, and is so tied to the career of a powerful Italian prosecutor who is under indictment for professional misconduct, that any fair-minded jury would have thrown it out months ago.”

John Q Kelly (CNN regular and attorney for the Nicole Brown Simpson Family)
“This case is probably the most egregious international railroading of two innocent young people that I have ever seen… This is actually a public lynching based on rank speculation and vindictiveness. It’s just a nightmare what these people are going through.”

Judy Bachrach (Guest on CNN Larry King Live)
“there isn’t a scintilla of evidence.. the prosecutor is famously incompetent.”

Peter Van Sant (CBS News Correspondent)
“She’s an innocent woman. And I would stake my reputation as a journalist [on that] and I have been in this business for a quarter century.”

Steve Moore (Retired FBI Agent – 25 years and frequent guest expert on ABC and CNN as well as other networks)
“The physical evidence against Amanda and Raffaele is wrong, contrived, misinterpreted, and (to put it kindly) misstated. The other “evidence” is made up of (embarrassingly naïve) hunches and bias. The “DNA” evidence is particularly inaccurate. The alleged motive and modus operandi of Knox/Sollecito is so tortured (and constantly-changing) that it defies belief.”

“One of the responsibilities of the FBI is to investigate police misconduct, and it is one of the more difficult investigations an FBI Agent can be assigned. I myself have conducted some of these investigations. I have seen the misconduct of police and prosecutors. But I have never personally been involved in a case where the misconduct is as egregious and obvious as the Mignini actions in Perugia. This was not a search for truth. This was a crusade to convict. It reminds me of that old joke about the crooked prosecutor; “I can convict anybody,” he said, “the innocent just take more time.”

S. Michael Scadron(Retired U.S. Dept of Justice Attorney)
“Despite all the discussion about evidence, this case has never been about the evidence. This case has always been about a corrupt public minister hell bent on restoring his sullied reputation and saving face.”

It is both sad and amusing that Ms. Pruett wants people to believe that the Marriott PR firm is there to protect the family from the media onslaught.  They have arranged numerous family appearances on television shows from all the major networks including the Oprah Winfrey show, worked with writers like Steve Shay to place slanted articles in the press, and have had their hand in virtually every documentary and movie produced on the case since the murder in 2007. 

I fail to see how one protects the family of a convicted murderer from a media onslaught by placing them in front of a camera at every opportunity, particularly on a case that the majority of the public has long since forgotten.

Doug Bremner

May 3, 2011, 8:49 p.m.

Rick, do you think they had a “hand” in the recent Lifetime movie that showed a “scene” of blood all over the bathroom, when the reality is that there were only a couple of drops of blood? Are you aware that the Italian police sprayed the bathroom with a substance that reveals hidden blood, that makes everything turn pink, and released those photos to the press, making it look like a “bloody crime scene”?Are you aware that the police lied on the witness stand and said there was a bloody footprint of Amanda in the hallway when they had tested it and it was negative for blood? Are you aware that the prosecutor of Perugia Mignini in fact orchestrated a very deliberate PR campaign with leaks to the media about a series of lies and distortions related to the case to build his case and in fact prejudice the jury (which is not sequestered from the media) against the accused? Are you aware that the prosecutor is currently convicted of abuse of power? Your viewpoint is very far off my friend. You can read my rebuttal of one of the slanted journalistic based books on the case here.
http://www.beforeyoutakethatpill.com/index.php/2011/05/03/rebuttal-to-angel-face-the-book-about-amanda-knox/

James B Storer

May 4, 2011, 11:18 a.m.

By comment, above, I explained why I believe two recent Sublime Court rulings (corporate personhood and corporate free speech) place PR at an even greater advantage in competition against objective news gathering operations.  I used recent action by the infamous Koch outfit as an example.
  Most intelligent posts in this comment section seem to be by folks associated with the news and information field.  I am not, so perhaps my assessments are illogical, but I wish to comment on the three tremendous Barstow articles (New York Times), which you can open by the link given above in this excellent pro publica report.  The link is “series of stories.”
  The incredible information obtained by Barstow and given in these three stories further accentuates the extreme obstacles faced by legitimate news organizations.  First, in my opinion, we may be wrong in using the term ‘public relations.’  In fact, the bulk of information disseminated during the Iraq invasion is pure propaganda, and much of it was broadcast through supposedly legitimate, long time respected television networks.  The account paying for it has virtually unlimited funds (U. S. Government including pentagon).  I remember viewing the various networks and watching the cameo appearances by “expert” retired military officers and wondering how well paid anchors can glowingly introduce these ass-kissing, boot-licking, characters without vomiting.
  The relationship between corporate PR and government PR will become closer, and legitimate news people may be unable to compete financially.  It is up to the citizenry to demand and finance a “free” press and democracy.
  It has been somewhat the trend to refer to the Bush regime as following “Nazi” principles.  This terminology is too restrictive.  They nearly succeeded in sending our nation into pure fascism (economic rule by a consortium of government and corporatism, and enforced by a vast and obedient military and propaganda machine).  Beware.
Skartishu, Granby MO

Rick what is sad, but not amusing, is how you have duped yourself into believing the lies of a dirty old man. 

I’m sure you are very aware of corruption at every level of law enforcement, in every country, so what boggles my mind is that you would believe Mignini’s PR.  That old man is a horrible creep and a child abuser.

The only brilliant thing he has done is his use of the media to spread lies worldwide.  His PR campaign was incredibly destructive.

As for the public forgetting about two innocent kids locked up in a foreign prison, no one has forgotten.  That you and I are chatting about it proves my point.

John, we really appreciate you allowing these off topic remarks to stay.  Thank you!

Your article was fascinating, insightful and compelling.  Perhaps the use of PR in the Kercher case would be another avenue to explore.  Thanks again.

Jack O'Dwyer

May 4, 2011, 2:10 p.m.

PR Filling ‘Vacuum’ Left by Press
ProPublica, the investigative news group headed by Paul Steiger, ME of the Wall Street Journal from 1991-2007, has published a 4,733-word examination of the relationship between the press and PR and concludes that the latter is eating the lunch of the former.

“PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms,” says the May 2 article by John Sullivan, who has written many articles for the New York Times.

The article, which had attracted nearly 30 comments on the ProPublica website as of press time, touches familiar bases such as media shrinkage, use of front groups, use of social media to bypass the press, and “scanty” IRS rules that allow front group donors to withhold their identities.

Left out, however, are the places where a lot these PR practices are cooked up — PR Seminar and its offshoot, the Arthur W. Page Society.
PR Seminar at South Beach
Super-secret PRS will meet June 6-8 at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.

Total cost for the 150 or so blue chip PR execs and their spouses/companions, including travel and the $3,500 registration fee, will be close to $1 million.

If leaders of the group have any say about it, including Marriott’s Kathleen Matthews, wife of “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews, not a word will escape — not even the program and especially not the list of attendees.

Also present last year at this prestigious, conservative PR group was Matt Thompson, editorial products manager of National Public Radio, which is facing challenges to its government funding.

No media except O’Dwyer’s has ever mentioned the existence of this influential group, although at least 25 major media have been represented at it including the NYT, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg (including Michael Bloomberg himself), Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, Washington Post, Financial Times, Economist and cable and network TV news shows.

Among speakers last year was Daniel Doctoroff, former New York City Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, who became president of Bloomberg in 2008.

PRS, for the first time in its 60 years, is meeting from Monday to Wednesday.

This may be an economy attempt as it’s scheduling the meeting after June 1, when rates go down. For many years PRS met in mid-May. Its 1996 meeting at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island, Fla., was held from May 15-18.

Corporate executives who meet at plush resorts have attracted criticisms to their companies in recent years, which is one reason for the economy kick at PRS is on. AIG executives who did so while the company was being rescued by the government caused much criticism in 2008.
Many Page Members in PRS
About two-thirds of the 30-member executive committee of PRS are members of the Page Society.
Page, whose main principle is “Tell the truth,” is a 501/c/3 organization, a category usually reserved for charities, such as the Red Cross and United Way. Such organizations allow anyone to join and provide no benefits to donors.
Page, founded in 1983, is limited to PR execs at companies with more than $2 billion in revenues. Members, who pay $1,395 in yearly dues, receive numerous benefits, including research papers and admittance to seminars and meetings addressed by leading corporate and government figures.
Julia Hood, former editor-in-chief of PR Week/U.S. joined Page last August as paid president/COO.

Tom Foremski

May 4, 2011, 5:59 p.m.

Software engineers have a term called GIGO, garbage in, garbage out. No matter how good your code, if you start with garbage data you get a garbage result. Media is how society “thinks”  about things, it is how we collectively make decisions. If our media is of garbage quality we won;t have the quality of data we need to make good decisions.

And we have lots of important decisions to make: energy, environment, eduction, elder care, economy, etc, and that’s just the topics that begin with the letter ‘e’.

We need strong, healthy, self-supporting, independent media organizations to ensure the health of our society. Yet the trend is accelerating us away from those goals. It’s bad, very bad.

The beneficiaries will be the ones that can pay for the media, the self-interest groups, corporations, politicians, etc. We know who the losers are…

While I agree with the core premise of this article, it combines several different disciplines into one field of “PR”.  This is most apparent throughout a major piece of the story when lobbyists using PR tactics are labeled as PR professionals.  There is an important distinction to be made there. 

Furthermore, the entire article carries the core assumption that news media is by nature fair, balanced and always in the public’s best interest.  As we’ve seen over the past few years with the likes of Fox, MSNBC, etc. this is certainly not always the case.  Much like some PR people put forth their own questionable agendas,  some reporters carry their own assumptions to stories. 

Finally, as a PR person myself, one who is particularly focused on media relations, I find it naive of those here to overstate our power.  If you’ve ever tried to work with a reporter at any top-tier publication on a story, you quickly find out that despite all our “money” the power dynamic is (and should always be) in favor of the media.  I’m making an argument for why something is important, it is their decision to do what they will with it.  As evidenced by the recent B-M scandal, if you push to hard, aren’t upfront or in any other way violate trust, you’ll get burned.  We always say, you can’t force someone to write a story. 

Trubee, you play the role of the overly skeptical citizen very well, but your mean spirited take down of Kerri is just wrong.  For one, you make wild assumptions about her job in a way that clearly indicates your lack of experience in the field.  Furthermore, the assumption that there is something ethically wrong with promoting the interests of a company is a falsehood.  Every aspect of business is in some way selling something.  If you’re not advocating for your business, then you’re not doing the best at your job.  If you don’t think you’re acting in the best interest of your business, then maybe your limited world view shouldn’t be contributing here.

Pat:

Your response is very professional, you are no doubt a trained journalist but you entire thesis is shot down by one term that you used, “top-tier”.

That brings us to the question of who’s “top-tier”  would it be the NY Times, Fortune Magazine, MSNBC, Fox News or the Enquirer?

Were I in your position with my company’s interests and my job were on the line as everyone’s job is in these times, I would know exactly who to call to promote whatever my board of directors wanted put into the media.

Were I applying for your job, either myself or any other applicant, would make it absolutely clear to the Board that we had the training and ability to transmit to the media anything that the Board wanted transmitted.

A few good examples of such PR would be TYCO Industries, NY Atty General Spitzer when he went after TYCO and AIG.

Some pooer examples might be Bernard Madoff, John McCain.

The perfect poor example before us everyday is President Obama, he fails on every level to get his message out until the last minute. Is it because he’s ethical and the other weren’t?

Interesting premise, that journalism is somehow the base of integrity and the seeker/protector of the truth - but it falls apart pretty quickly for anyone with even a modest recall of history.

Spin and counter-spin has been around since the days of Thomas Paine and the founding of the Republic.

Curiously, the author of this article only gives passing mention to the Hearst/Pulitzer newspaper wars from which the term ‘yellow journalism’ came - and no mention at all of the journalism scandals of Jayson Blair of the New York Times (all the news that’s fit to make up) and Janet Cooke of the Washington Post (hired by none other than Bob Woodward, himself known to fabricate whatever needs embellishing. - who backed away from any responsibility.)

Curiously, left-of-center spin groups like MoveOn.org (funded by George Soros) are not mentioned, but right-of-center groups are. Seems to be a traditional media bias there.

As this article only touches on - mass media and so-called ‘journalists’ have lost their relevance as gatekeepers of information. With Internet access anyone can now research stories to whatever depth they want - the interesting back and forth above on the Amanda Knox trial is a case in point - turns out one of the commentators had an undisclosed agenda..

So too bad - all the former journalists and journalism professors can moan about bygone days where they were relevant - and could spin the news any way they wanted and bury their own biases in the ‘coverage’ - but no more.

No wonder so many of them are becoming PR people.

To Producer:

So far no one has said it better!

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