The Public Relations Society of America asked me to write a little piece on Brand Journalism for a series they’re doing on trends for 2012 (“#PRin2012: 12 Trends That Will Change Public Relations“).
As a follow-up, I’d love to hear from journalists who recently made the jump to public relations who perform a similar journalistic role for their company/organization – reporting on its “news.”
If you’re a news professional who now reports on a company/organization’s news in a PR role and you’re interested in sharing your insights, please visit this form (I will gladly keep your personal information confidential and attribute your comments anonymously if you request).
If Jack O’Dwyer’s journalistic credentials were ever in question before, let all doubt be removed with his recent flurry of scandal-mongering.
Responding to PRSA’s thorough documentation of O’Dwyer’s unethical behavior and rationale for his lack of press credentials at the latest PRSA International Conference, O’Dwyer has ramped up his campaign against the organization and is now incorporating students in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).
Unlike Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who have taken an objective approach to covering the US Government in their careers, Jack O’Dwyer is much more like Statler and Waldorf – the comical gadflies on the Muppets who criticize the performers no matter what they do.
It’$ All About the Benjamin$
The economic backbone of O’Dwyer’s operation is, like much of the traditional media, based on “eyeballs” (ie subscribers, traffic to his website, etc). In order for it to be financially-viable, O’Dwyer needs to be perceived as being an important figure in the public relations industry where his trade is plied, and to have attention-grabbing material to write about. Read more…
O’Dwyer’s repeated unethical and illegal behavior forced the organization to take the step of refusing to issue him press credentials (the evidence against O’Dwyer and the rationale for the move are detailed eloquently in this blog post by PRSA). Here’s my favorite part of their response to his complaints about not being allowed in:
“Mr. O’Dwyer is an activist, and he has the right to be one. But much like the author of the “Sprint Really Sucks”blog would not be invited to attend the annual meeting of Sprint shareholders, so, too, does PRSA have the right to deny access to an activist who harasses our employees, volunteers and business partners.”
- (Arthur Yann, ‘Aren’t You Tired Of It By Now Too?’, October 26th 2011)
So O’Dwyer became a one-man flashmob, posting himself outside the entrance to the assembly with a fistful of papers (some of which looked like a list of names that were being checked). I took the opportunity to shoot this video of O’Dwyer camped in the public space outside the assembly so that people could get an idea of how he conducts himself:
Regarding the comments O’Dwyer made on the phone and his generally-unprofessional conduct:
- The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) invited O’Dwyer to resign his membership.
- Vendors clearly have no problem with PRSA’s decision, nor do they have any problems accessing O’Dwyer to mug for the camera as these examples show:
- Example 1: (Sidebar: This is one of my favorite videos of all time as it shows how completely out-of-step O’Dwyer is with the rest of the world – he’s asked to defend his position that public relations people should never be allowed to interact directly with the public (because they apparently have special communication powers that make it an inherently unfair situation. No lie – he actually believes that – it’s one of his many criticisms of PRSA.)
- Example 2
- Example 3
- As I mentioned in the video – if O’Dwyer wanted to find out what was going on in the conference, the hashtags #prsadelegates and #prsa_leaders carried unfiltered discussion about each moment of the 2011 Assembly directly from the attendees. Unfortunately Mr. O’Dwyer is the journalistic equivalent of a coelacanth (something you believe is extinct until you actually encounter one in the wild) and isn’t a very skilled user of social media.
It’s important to preface this post by noting while I’m a PRSA member – I’m no shill for the organization.
I support PR Watch and the Center for Media and Democracy – in fact, I believe I’ve even contributed financially to them in the past. I enjoy their Media Minute (and I’m glad it’s once again being produced), and I’ve frequently recommended their tool sourcewatch.org to colleagues and students (and contributed to it). I own all of John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s books (and my copy of “Toxic Sludge is Good for You” is even autographed from when I met Rampton at a lecture he gave in Grand Rapids). I’ve also frequently criticized PRSA.
That said …
… this analysis by Anne Landman of PR Watch (“The Battle Between O”Dwyer and PRSA) is completely misguided and full of fatal flaws and it seriously impugns PR Watch’s credibility – something I’m truly sad to see.
Here are some of the problems:
- Landman failed to note in the initial publication of the piece that Jack O’Dwyer is a member of the PR Watch staff (a fact only corrected when Arthur Yann, VP of PR for PRSA pointed it out).
- Landman falsely identifies PRSA President & COO William Murray, CAE as having previously worked for Phillip Morris (as a way of tarring his reputation by association) – confusing him with R. William “Bill” Murray. I was disappointed to see that grievous and sophomoric error is still in place on SourceWatch.org.
- Nowhere in Landman’s analysis does she mention that PRSA has hard evidence demonstrating O’Dwyer’s organization illegally accessed internal PRSA conference calls AND hacked into the PRSA members-only website.
- Amazingly, nowhere in Landman’s editorial does she mention O’Dwyer’s strident claims that PRSA owes him money because it duplicated some of his content as part of its clippings-sharing service many years ago (which is the primary motivator behind his aggression toward the organization).
- Landman attempts to bolster O’Dwyer’s credibility by citing a Forbes Magazine article which was also seriously deficient in its analysis.
- Landman name-checks Wendell Potter, but doesn’t note that PRSA made him a featured speaker during its 2009 International Conference.
- Landman incorrectly describes O’Dwyer’s criticism of PRSA as going back “a few years” – but O’Dwyer has been a caustic opponent of PRSA ever since I was an undergraduate student in the Public Relations Student Society of America back in 1999 (that’s more than ‘a few’ years ago).
O’Dwyer isn’t barred from attending the PRSA International Conference because the organization fears he’ll produce unfavorable reporting. They’re barring him because he’s NOT A JOURNALIST. He has routinely violated the Code of Ethics prescribed by the Society of Professional Journalists (of which O’Dwyer is a member).
O’Dwyer is a profiteer with a financial vendetta who has found it valuable to criticize PRSA (which is why he focuses disproportionate attention on them, virtually ignoring all other professional public relations organizations). He’s also turned his criticism to any organization he feels owes him money (like the PR firms that declined to pay to be listed with his service) – using his faux-journalistic enterprise to criticize them as a way to extort money from them.
I urge PR Watch to reconsider this line of attack. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to make of the PR industry and PRSA – but Jack O’Dwyer is not the horse you want to back in doing so.
A while ago, Jack O’Dwyer continued his “PRSA Smear a Day” campaign with another digression into the bizarre. Here are some of my favorite parts:
[In an attack on PRSA Ethics Chair, Prof Deborah Silverman] “Teachers and scientists do not turn their backs on information but seek every last scrap of it with zeal. They prize the historical record of anything and listen to all voices. Facts and knowledge are revered, not feared.”
- This is a standard O’Dwyer tactic: to attempt to besmirch a target of an interview with their employer by calling co-workers and supervisors and even writing about the employer themselves in an attempt to bully the subject into talking to him. It’s easy to understand why very few people return O’Dwyers’ calls.
[Describing the limitations placed on his coverage of PRSA International Conferences] “Freedom of the press is a right granted by the First Amendment to the Constitution and in America an accused person has the right to face his or her accusers.”
- Among the numerous problems with this sentence are:
- PRSA is a private organization, not required by law to allow any news media to attend (nor subject to the Freedom of Information Act or the Open Meetings Act).
- No one is infringing on O’Dwyer’s First Amendment rights – he’s free to probe and blog to his heart’s content.
- The “Confrontation Clause” (the right to face accusers) is part of the Sixth Amendment, not the First – and it only applies to persons charged with a crime. But then O’Dwyer never claimed to be a legal scholar.
[Describing his further grievances against PRSA] “Withholding transcripts of the Assembly since 2005 and refusal to provide transcripts of teleconferences. These are like the “slow-motion” replays that are common in sports journalism that give fans needed details.”
- Why would PRSA send transcripts of meetings to someone who mines them looking for dirt? Just look at the “reporting” on Gail Baker that O’Dwyer dredged up from previous columns – there’s no proof of wrongdoing or anything more than a clerical error but the assertion made is that there was foul play involved. I think I speak for the majority of PRSA members when I say that I would find it difficult to speak candidly if I knew a scandal-monger was going over everything I said with a fine-toothed comb.
- Transcripts are available to members of PRSA, so it’s not as though they need O’Dwyer to provide that service.
- Besides – PRSA has evidence that O’Dwyer’s company has hacked into the phone calls and the organization’s members-only website. He should have all of the information he needs from those illicit activities.
[Another of O'Dwyer's Grievances] “5. Blocking PR reporters from accessing the audit or quarterly reports. They are in the members’ area and reporters are not allowed to join the Society. No reason is given for this. Reporters are members of PR groups including IABC and IPRA.”
- Does the “Public Relations Society of America” really have to explain why it discourages people who don’t work in “public relations” from becoming members?
- I wonder if O’Dwyer is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators or International Public Relations Association – if so, he might want to read the codes of ethics he signed on to uphold.
“14. Refusal to investigate or disavow threats of physical violence made in person and in a letter to Jack O’Dwyer by an Assembly delegate following the 2010 Assembly. VP-PR Arthur Yann has e-mailed that a national director witnessed this incident.”
- If O’Dwyer doesn’t know the name of the person who threatened him, how does he know that person was a PRSA assembly delegate?
“15. Refusing to compensate numerous authors after selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their articles from 1980-94. An expose by O’Dwyer’s ended the practice.”
- The only “author” requesting compensation is O’Dwyer, and despite his above discussion about jurisprudence he has not filed suit against PRSA. As I said earlier – fish or cut bait, man.
A Rhetorical Question
O’Dwyer insists he’s a journalist and that his rights are being infringed by the Public Relations Society of America. If he really is a journalist covering the public relations world, wouldn’t that mean that he devote proportionally the same amount of investigative and editorial attention to all of the professional organizations that represent public relations professionals?
After all, PRSA isn’t the only game in town. There are other groups also advocating on behalf of the public relations profession:
- International Association of Business Communicators (www.iabc.com) | 15,000 members
- International Public Relations Association (www.ipra.org) | >1,000 members
- Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (www.case.org) | 64,000 members
- National Investor Relations Institute (www.niri.org) | 3,500 members
- International Association of Business Communicators – 18 entries
- International Public Relations Association – 7 entries
- Council for the Advancement and Support of Education – 0 entries
- National Investor Relations Institute – 7 entries
- Public Relations Society of America – 236 entries
Are you ready for a Jack O’Dwyer hypocrisy trifecta?
1. In his latest anti-PRSA screed, Jack O’Dwyer again regurgitates his accusation that the organization owes him money because their research library distributed copies of his work (something most intellectual property law experts would call “fair use” – which is likely why O’Dwyer never bothered to take the issue to court).
What’s particularly hilarious is that O’Dwyer includes an image in his blog post of a dodo in reference to a slight against PRSA: Read more…
I checked my email the other day and found an item from Jack O’Dwyer in response to my rebuttal of the Aaron Perlut piece about the PRSA/O’Dwyer conflict in Forbes.
I’ve found that no one does a better job of undermining the arguments of Jack O’Dwyer than Jack O’Dwyer – so I have little editorializing to do except to point out the following things:
- The use of the third person. I actually kind of like this because it’s a very old-timey journo sort of thing to do. Kind of like wearing fedoras and rushing to find payphones to call in copy.
- No rebuttal of the charge of hacking the PRSA website. Jack continues to deny that his office accessed the teleconferences without authorization, but insists that they have every right to do so (if they had). The charge that someone from his offices hacked into the members-only section of PRSA’s website, however, he remains completely silent on. (That’s saying something because as you can see Jack can’t keep his mouth shut about anything).
- The hoary copyright claim chestnut. Again, Jack demonstrates why he’s ethically-obliged to hand over coverage of PRSA to someone else in his ‘organization’ (which I imagine to be a bunch of underfed cats scurrying around a studio apartment, the walls of which are covered in newspaper clippings connected by red yarn and pushpins). He’s “reporting” on an organization he has a grievance against, which the Society of Professional Journalists deems a conflict of interest. Notwithstanding the reality that PRSA’s circulation of O’Dwyer content likely constitutes Fair Use, Jack should file a copyright infringement lawsuit or shut up about it. Fish or cut bait, man. Read more…