O’Dwyer Runs Afoul of Wikipedia in Effort to Defame PRSA

Jack O'Dwyer's Conspiracy Theories

In his zeal to advance his attack on the Public Relations Society of America my favorite curmudgeon Jack O’Dwyer has finally discovered Wikipedia.

Unfortunately O’Dwyer doesn’t really understand it, and now he’s attacking the Wikimedia Foundation and Jimmy Wales because of the articles on “public relations” as well as its “history” and the fact that Wikipedia strongly discourages PR pros from contributing directly to the vaunted online encyclopedia.

To this end, Phil Gomes with Edelman started a group on Facebook called “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement” or CREWE.  It’s already made some excellent strides toward creating policy and procedure that everyone can follow for contributing to the entries in Wikipedia.  As he frequently does (which makes him a fantastic case study in how to be a spokesperson for an organization), Jimmy Wales actually joined the discussion on CREWE and has been active in helping address the concerns that some of the public relations pros have had with Wikipedia.

Unfortunately O’Dwyer’s lack of comprehension has led him to again don his tinfoil cap and allege a conspiracy where none exists.  He mistakenly believes Wikipedia is deliberately ignoring or censoring mentions of a disputed account of the Tylenol Case Study (it’s not).  He also described many of the standard conventions of Wikipedia entries as significant in the case of the entries on PR and its history (unaware that they’re automatic configurations).

O’Dwyer took it upon himself to edit these entries and when his entries were rejected for publication, he cried foul and demanded action (both publicly and trying to run up the chain of command inside Wikipedia rather than appealing directly to the editors that removed his contributions).

Here’s the response he received from Jimmy Wales (which I was so amused by that I published a sensational tweet about it, something I was rightly chastised by Wales for):

“Jack, I am unsure what you are asking for here. If you want to have a meeting with people to argue that your site is reliable, then I don’t think the NYC chapter is the right organization to do that, since they would have nothing to do with that. 

I checked our internal email system to see why you might think your email was ignored. It turns out that it was forwarded to Jay Walsh who has been on vacation. But nevermind, you have my ear now so if you can explain more clearly what you are asking I can try to help.

Your email to us claimed that you had been blocked from Wikipedia, but the volunteer who processed your email pointed out internally that that isn’t true – your account has not been blocked.

What did happen was that an embarrassingly bad edit you made to an article was reverted. The edit was blatantly promotional about a book that, news sources say, you are “supporting”. Is this a client? 

In any event, in this case, we have a lovely example of how the system works and how NOT to try to edit Wikipedia and WHY I think paid advocates should not edit articles directly, ever.” – Jimmy Wales, January 10 at 12:15pm

Too right.  O’Dwyer’s conspiracy theories aside, here’s what is ACTUALLY happening:

1. People don’t CARE about the definition of Public Relations, or the history of PR.  That’s why there is a dearth of content – it’s not a deliberate lack of inclusion from Wikipedia.  That’s also why there is a dearth of books on the subject (outside of textbooks or tactical manuals).  They care even less about the “Council of PR Firms” – another entity O’Dwyer complains about a lack of content for.  That’s one of the downsides of crowdsourcing – it produces content skewed populist (which is why the Wikipedia entries for Tim Tebow and Beyonce have more in-depth content).

2. Content published by public relations pros gets deleted by Wikipedia editors as a direct result of the non-transparent and dishonest way PR people have used Wikipedia in the past.  Unfortunately a combination of avarice and ignorance on the part of PR pros created a very hostile relationship with Wikipedians so that they are very mistrustful – I don’t blame them.

Since then, however, a process has emerged for PR people to contribute content to Wikipedia (some excellent detailed suggestions for PR pros are provided by Wikipedian JMabel here):

  1. Learn about Wikipedia (particularly spend some time observing the discussion forums where the specifics of entries, contributors and contributions are debated).
  2. Be open and transparent.
  3. Post your suggestions for contributions to the “Talk” section of a Wikipedia entry and appeal to some of the Wikipedians who have contributed to that entry or similar entries to consider your content for inclusion.
  4. Freely license any intellectual property (images, video) you’d like included under either a Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) or a Creative Commons license.  If you want something on Wikipedia – you can’t retain a traditional, exclusive license to it – because it will invariably be re-used by others for a variety of purposes (which is a good thing).

3. Wikipedia is decentralized and lacks a hierarchy – which is the POINT.  As he’s accustomed to bullying his way to preferential treatment, O’Dwyer actually attempted to go right up the chain of command at the Wikimedia Foundation and have his way:

“E-mails to NYC WP leaders inviting them to my office have been ignored. E-mails to Wikimedia are ignored and someone told me in a live WP chat that only volunteers handle the media.” – Jack O’Dwyer, January 10 at 11:57am

4. Dexterity is the point of wiki tools; after all, the etymology of the word is Hawaiian for “very quickly” – which is why it was chosen by Ward Cunningham for the first “Wiki” he created back in 1995.  This has two very important ramifications for how content will appear on Wikipedia:

  • It must be DIGITAL.  Any sourcing for Wikipedia must go to either webpages or digital versions of photo, video and documents.
  • It must be OPEN.  As a crowdsourced innovation, Wikipedia allows for democratic participation by all – and that means that everyone gets to see not only the final product but the sausage-making that took place to get there.  That’s why it’s important for ORIGINAL sourcing to be used as opposed to secondary sourcing.

What we Learn

O’Dwyer is failing at interacting with Wikipedia because he tried to link to content in the subscriber-only section of his website, and rather than publish his sources online – he wants to try to coax someone into his office to pore over the mouldering stacks of paper documents and books he has.  Not only that, but O’Dwyer doesn’t understand that he can’t simultaneously profit from his paywalled content AND have people actually read it – you have to choose one or the other.

This should be instructive to anyone who wants to be successful in the digital world: in order to spread, content must be freely shared and easily-accessible.

The Internet in many ways rebooted our world to Year Zero; by that I mean the credibility and reputation earned by certain organizations over the past thousands of years of human interaction were rendered less important.  The web, instead, bases reputation and credibility on MERIT.  That’s why Wikipedia is searched and cited far more than Encyclopedia Britannica.  O’Dwyer stridently attempted to cash in on his years of print publications, but the editors of Wikipedia would have none of it:

“WP needs to acknowledge O’Dwyer’s as a “reliable” source since we are the only ones ever to cover PR Seminar, the 65-year-old very important “secret society” of top corporate and agency execs. ” – Jack O’Dwyer, January 10 at 11:57am

A hilarious footnote to this whole situation is that O’Dwyer has continued to use the CREWE group to wage his war against PRSA, and he’s been specifically asked to stop doing this by the moderator of the group and several of its members because it’s irrelevant to the actual discussion at hand (he’s not just posting irrelevant replies, he’s been publishing irrelevant wall posts).  Sigh.

3 thoughts on “O’Dwyer Runs Afoul of Wikipedia in Effort to Defame PRSA

  1. Jack O'Dwyer says:

    Hi Derek:
    Happy Martin Luther King’s Birthday!
    Here’s my column on it including what appears to be the PR Society’s lack of interest in its African-American members. Only two have been on the board in 65 years and two very qualified candidates were recently rejected (Gold Anvil winner Ofield Dukes and 25-year veteran Regina Lewis. If I’m wrong in any way about this, I will gladly correct it. –Jack


    1. Derek DeVries says:

      Jack – I agree; there certainly isn’t enough African-American representation within the PR world or within PRSA and I’d like to see more. I try to encourage all of the students of color I encounter who are interested to seriously consider a career in PR because they bring a valuable perspective to any organization and are in demand.

      Out of curiosity – how many African-Americans are employed at O’Dwyer’s?


  2. Jack O'Dwyer says:

    Here is column:

    Happy Birthday King: Where Are PR’s Blacks?—O’Dwyer
    Mon., Jan. 16, 2012

    African-Americans Have Low PR Profile
    We join with the African-American community and all Americans today in honoring Martin Luther King, the pioneer civil rights leader.
    However, there’s no question that African-Americans have a low profile in the PR industry.
    We put some of the blame on the black PR community itself because we rarely hear from any of its organizations.
    There is plenty of notice on this website of doings of the PR Society, IABC, Arthur W. Page Society, Publicity Club of New York, (PR) Seminar, Institute for PR, New York Women in Communications, Council of PR Firms, National Investor Relations Institute and others.
    They send us a constant drumbeat about their programs, award dinners, elections, national conferences and PR initiatives of one sort or another.
    But it’s a blank from the National Black PR Society http://www.nbprs.org or even its New York affiliate. We receive nothing about new officers, conferences, speeches, position papers, etc.
    More than 1,000 members are in BPRS while the National Assn. of Black Journalists, Adelphi, Md., has 4,000 members of whom 700 are PR pros.
    Mike Millis of MX2 Design Force announced in November that he is reviving BPRS/NY after three years of “inactivity.” A meeting was held Nov. 30 at Burson-Marsteller. http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Black-Public-Relations-SocietyNew-York-4127092%2ES%2E82480991?qid=9ad33c3d-3dd1-45c7-a0ed-04836abbcf1a&goback=%2Egmp_4127092
    Paul Advises BPRS/NY
    Mike Paul of MGP & Assocs., New York, who set up offices for BPRS/NY when he was at B-M in 1992, said he was glad to hear the group will again be active.
    He said that in the past its meetings have been mostly concerned with entertainment, sports and political PR and he urged the new leadership to hold sessions that build financial, marketing, planning and writing skills—the entire gamut of abilities needed by today’s PR pros.
    Paul, who has appeared hundreds of times on network and cable TV shows on a variety of topics, said he is still disappointed that none of the top 20 PR firms nor any of the major units of global PR firms is headed by a person of color. He said there is no shortage of qualified candidates and called on the firms to redouble their efforts to find them. He called the situation “a travesty.”

    Redmond Heads National BPRS
    President of NBPRS is Wynona Redmond, director of PA and government relations, Dominick’s Finer Foods of Safeway, http://nbprs.org/nbprs-leadership.html who served on the PR Society board in 2010 as senior counsel with Ofield Dukes. Gold Anvil winner Dukes, who died last year, lost his bid to be an at-large board member of the PR Society in 2010 to Barbara Whitman of Honolulu.
    Gary McCormick, 2010 chair, had promised to appoint blacks and journalists to his strategic planning committee but was over-ruled by the board.
    Regina Lewis, http://www.odwyerpr.com/blog/index.php?/archives/998-African-American-Seeks-PRSA-Nod.html chief communications officer, the Potter’s House of Dallas and a 25-year PR veteran, failed in her bid to join the 2011 board as an at-large director. She lost to Susan Walton, associate teaching professor, Brigham Young University. http://www.odwyerpr.com/blog/index.php?/archives/998-African-American-Seeks-PRSA-Nod.html
    Only two blacks have served on the Society’s board in 65 years—1997 president Debra Miller and 2006 chair Cheryl Procter-Rogers. Ron Owens, the sole black male appointed to the board, quit in 2006 after serving five months of a three-year term.
    Stealth Closing of Multicultural Section
    Minority members of the Society were outraged when COO Bill Murray on Dec. 22, 2009 announced dissolution of the Multicultural section after 26 years.
    Section members said they weren’t even consulted.
    Murray said the definition of “diversity” was being expanded to include not only racial, ethnic and cultural diversity but the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual community and those with physical disabilities.”
    Kerri Allen, of the New York Hispanic brand PR firm Revolucion, asked: “On the eve of 2010, what organization would scrap their multicultural initiatives?” Section members said there was no mention of closing the section at the section council meeting at the national conference in San Diego.
    A 2008 membership survey found that members give “a very low priority” to diversity issues, said Lynn Appelbaum, national board liaison to the diversity committee. http://www.odwyerpr.com/blog/index.php?/archives/2009/12.html
    She said the 73 section members paying an annual fee of $60 was “far below the 200 minimum” required for a section and that a committee, rather than a section, would be “more effective at reaching Society members on multicultural topics.”
    PR Prof. Richard Waters of North Carolina State University said that “taking voting away (section chairs have Assembly votes while committees do not) from minority/multicultural members sounds just like the 1800s.”
    VP-PR Arthur Yann tweeted: “Sounds like the most irresponsible, ignorant comment I’ve heard today.”
    Other Twitter posts said the section had no chance to defend itself. The decision was presented as a fait accompli just as h.q. staff was shutting down completely for 11 days to Jan. 4, 2010.
    Vallbona Saw Little Diversity in PRS
    Marisa Vallbona, running for the board in 2010, called on the Society to “embrace diverse members and cultures” in her position statement. http://www.odwyerpr.com/blog/index.php?/archives/1203-PRSA-Candidate-Vallbona-Hits-Diversity-Nerve.html
    She said that since joining in 1993 she had noticed that PRS was “primarily dominated by a specific type of member. I’m Hispanic and can count on two hands the number of Hispanic members I’ve met over the past two decades. The same goes for other ethnic groups.”
    The black PR societies in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta typically have dues that are under $100. BPRS/NY dues are $50 and $25 for students.
    The new national dues rate of $255 of PRS will increase the financial barrier to membership for blacks.
    Where Is Madison Ave. Project?
    Angela Ciccolo, interim general counsel of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and Cyrus Mehri, of the D.C. law firm of Mehri & Skalet, published a 100-page report in January 2009 called the “Madison Ave. Project” that said only 5.3% of ad agency managers and professionals were black. The poor economy was worsening the problem, they said. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/09/business/media/09adco.html
    Mehri said the few blacks with ad jobs only earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to their white counterparts.
    Mehri’s law firm had obtained large settlements from companies including Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley and Texaco on charges of racial discrimination. Coke paid $193 million to settle its suit.
    Mehri said he preferred “collaboration” to a lawsuit as a means of obtaining fairer treatment of minorities. There was to be a major push to get clients of ad agencies to demand greater integration at the agencies.
    The Madison Ave. Project complained of “decades of systemic and pervasive bias against agency employees and would-be employees who are black, which makes the ad business far more unfair than most other major American industries.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s