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.