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

January 15, 2012 3 comments

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.

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Jack O’Dwyer is Less Woodward & Bernstein, More Statler & Waldorf

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Jack O'Dwyer is Statler & Waldorf, not Woodard & Bernstein

Jack O'Dwyer is Statler & Waldorf, not Woodard & Bernstein

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…

PR Watch Bungles Criticism of PRSA With Error- and Omission-Riddled Attack

October 12, 2011 7 comments

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.

O’Dwyer Continues PRSA Witchhunt by Demonstrating Lack of Civics Knowledge

September 28, 2011 1 comment

O'Dwyer's Witchhunt "They Turned me Into a Newt!"

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.”

“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
Doing a quick search of O’Dwyer’s blog (at the time of drafting this post) – here are the total number of stories that mention each organization:
  • 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
Looks a little lopsided for a “journalistic” organization, don’tcha think?

Suggested Reading for Rupert O’Dwyer – the SPJ Code of Ethics

August 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Regarding “journalist” Rupert O’Dwyer’s recent screed about the Public Relations Society of America:

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.  Journalists should: […] Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Writing a prescribed course of action and then listing the names and email addresses of the “Top 50 Society Chapter Presidents” is “advocacy” – not news reporting.  Just sayin’.

In other news, the crickets who have been chirping during O’Dwyer’s non-response to the phone and website hacking allegations against his organization are getting really tired.

Another Rupert O’Dwyer Revelation – PRSA Documented Website Hacks

July 26, 2011 7 comments

For JO, Kisses - Rupe

Amazingly, there’s a new revelation in the PRSA Phone Hacking scandal involving Jack O’Dwyer and his publication.  Vice President of Public Relations for PRSA Arthur Yann revealed in a comment on this blog yesterday that PRSA has evidence that someone accessed the private, password-protected, members-only section of PRSA’s website from an IP address traced back to O’Dwyer’s PR. Read more…

Has Rupert O’Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

July 25, 2011 5 comments

Has Rupert O'Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

As a follow-up to my previous entry, today’s blog post from Jack O’Dwyer (“PRSA Stonewall Battered by Facts“) appears to drop a bombshell in the form of a possible admission that his organization did indeed access the conference calls of the Public Relations Society of America without permission (a timely reveal given the News Corp phone hacking scandal currently unfolding in the UK).

In it, he provides specific details about the teleconferences themselves (including timing and participation).  Here’s a sample: Read more…