Monthly Archives: November 2011

Win for citizen journalism, loss for PR?

This video and many others like it have been swarming every media outlet—social and traditional—since the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis occurred.

Is this the big break citizen journalism needed to gain clout? Zack Whittaker at ZDNet argues that it does, and conversely that public relations has taken a hit.

With camera phones in nearly every person’s pocket, it is easy to be prepared to document everything from Ryan Gosling breaking up a street fight to incidents of police brutality.

“It gives citizens around the world chance to bring raw, unedited and unfettered truths to the masses,” Whittaker wrote.

Statements have been issued defending the actions of the police at UC Davis, as is to be expected. Whittaker dismisses these statements as “spin” and says the proof is in the footage. The “spin doctors” were caught and “spin no longer works,” he wrote.

Although on its face this may seem like a hit to public relations, I think it is actually quite the opposite. This shows how bad public relations fails. Good public relations should tackle issues with the same level of transparency as news because—as this incident made clear—the truth is what matters to people in the end.

A recent speech by Richard Edelman outlined principles to guide the future of public relations, and one of those principles is to “practice radical transparency.”

“More than ever, business must explain how and why decisions are made,” he said. “This is not a strategic opportunity; it is a necessity. Business is at its strongest only when it is transparent about its intentions and way of working.”

Although Edelman’s focus was business, the idea remains relevant to PR in all avenues. “Spin” is a dirty word to PR practitioners, and all one has to do to avoid the label of “spin doctor” is to be honest.

Ultimately, I think Whittaker’s article places far too much blame on PR in order to make his argument in favor of citizen journalism. Citizen journalism helped bring this incident to light, but public relations wasn’t the cause of the problem, it was just another player in the scene.

For good discussion on the underlying problems that really caused this incident, I found several articles in The Atlantic to be fascinating.


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Think before you tweet

If the above screenshot doesn’t tell the story already, let me fill you in: Ashton Kutcher ignorantly sent out the above tweet regarding the recent firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired for not properly reporting child sexual abuse.

Kutcher immediately felt the backlash of tweeting without knowing the whole story. He looked like a fool at best, an insensitive jerk at worst. He has since issued apologies via Twitter and blog post, and he has turned over his Twitter account to his production company, Katalyst.

Although this change in feed management will undoubtedly improve the number of gaffes posted, I can’t help but think it’s a mistake. Kutcher gained more than 8 million followers because it was clear that he was the one tweeting. Fans like to feel a direct connection to the celebrities they admire, and Twitter has been one of the few ways they could do that.

Followers of Kutcher’s feed can now look forward to generic tweets promoting his work instead of getting insight into his random thoughts and daily life. And now when @aplusk retweets or replies to you? It’s not actually the guy you want, it’s just someone masquerading as him.

Celebrities have recovered from worse slip-ups, and I think Kutcher will get over this hurdle before the world bats an eye. However, I think it would be in his best interest to stay in touch with fans himself rather than by proxy. A genuine apology and some self-restraint would probably be enough for people to forgive and forget. It might be hard to have it both ways—the benefits of the personal interaction without the potential harm to reputation—but just think before you tweet and messes like this won’t happen in the first place.

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