UNR: More trouble on the farm

mainstation 233x300 UNR: More trouble on the farmFor those interested in recent news coverage about the University of Nevada, Reno wanting to lease some of its research farm property, I spent dozens of hours two years ago compiling research, conducting interviews, crawling through decades-old archives, and visiting with stakeholders and current employees (my former colleagues) to write a series of investigative opinion pieces at ThisisReno.com. The first was a set of interviews with the then University Provost (now the interim president, who wants to be the president), and then my follow-up series. Here are the articles, in order:

  1. Opinion: Surprise! Your curricula are under review
  2. Opinion: The University’s measurement dilemma
  3. Opinion: The Regents giveth, the Regents taketh away
  4. Opinion: University budget cut fallout – it’s a matter of perspective
  5. Opinion: The shades of gray in the University’s curricular review
  6. Opinion: Why agriculture, why now

Much of what I wrote about is still being debated, and some of the issues covered have been the subject of lawsuits, such as firing tenured faculty under the guise of a “curricular review,” and at least one federal civil rights complaint.

There’s very little innovative advocacy journalism left in this country, and I appreciate the opportunity to get to do some on a rare occasion — especially on issues I am passionate about, such as leadership, higher-ed. administration, change management and crisis communications.

Fortunately, some in the mainstream news are finally covering these issues to a degree that is deserved. The local daily rehashed Monday much of what was brought up in my series, citing some of the same sources.

The University is scrambling to justify its intentions, and it has been consistent only about trying to appease all fronts. Fortunately, since the original series appeared, the citizens of Reno have taken up the cause quite loudly.

While I understand the University’s rationale for consistently looking to its agricultural resources to subsidize the rest of campus, its current mismanagement of this issue can be attributed to a select few who are talking out of all sides of their mouths and appear to justify their current actions — attempts to lease agricultural land — with their past actions: diminishing agricultural programs so the land is no longer needed.

It’s pure spin.

Losing prime research land to commercial development is likely, and sadly, inevitable. Had the University staunchly stood behind its land-grant mission through the decades, the rhetoric coming out of the current and recent past administrations would not be what it is today.

Tackling critics: Koman fails, Ellen shines

ELLEN.11007 WNB TM 02 002.finout USE THIS full 192x300 Tackling critics: Koman fails, Ellen shinesCrisis Blogger Gerald Baron recently made a strong point (I’m paraphrasing): The Internet is not humanity. While he was writing in response to critics of how the Koman PR situation was handled, his point is that that despite not being representative of the broader public, issues have been successfully driven online — for better or worse.

The power of the Internet, obviously, cannot be denied, and Baron’s point should be considered. If we are to use the Internet in our favor in times of crisis, we also should be prepared that it will hit us against our will in times of crisis.

In other words, there’s no free lunch, and we cannot pick and choose when the power of the Internet as both a communications vehicle and agenda driver gets to favor us.

While I agree with most critics of how Koman handled its relationship with Planned Parenthood, there are times when it is important to distinguish between publics that are important to our organization(s), and those that are most visible (e.g., activists are frequently driving criticisms, and their support, or lack thereof, is often fleeting). Choosing the latter is not always the wisest course of action for long term survival.

Similarly, Ellen went to the airwaves recently to tackle Internet critics. It’s her medium of choice, where she excels, and it is where she initially would see results. The later Youtube video, at nearly 1.5 million views, reinforces her point.

She also tackled critics with humor and with a smile on her face. Watch the video. What do you think? Post comments below.

Sharing is Caring: Lessons learned from #washoefire news coverage

washoefiremap 211x300 Sharing is Caring: Lessons learned from #washoefire news coverage

A map of the Washoe Fire created by Bryce Leinan.

Society is increasingly entangled online, which means we are frequently connecting with one another in ways we would not have done in person prior to the Internet.

It’s clear that online social media have transformed societies in recent years; anyone who’s been paying attention to news coverage has noticed how online media is frequently driven by citizens.

The recent Washoe Drive Fire in Reno drove this point home for Washoe County residents. Arguably, the most popular sources of information were TV news and social networks. (A serious nod goes to KOLO/Channel 8 for its ongoing coverage running live for hours and responding directly to citizens on air from their social networks.) Courtesy of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the #washoefire hashtag on Twitter exploded much like the fire did in real life.

While RGJ.com had coverage with quality multimedia, it was frequently late to the game in getting out information. At any given moment during the fire RGJ.com showed “Updates” and “Breaking News” that were often a half hour old or more – even though news was literally breaking by the minute. In addition, we at ThisisReno were linking to their website content before they were posting to their own social networks.

The point is that news agencies treat news and information as one and the same: proprietary. They frequently pretend as if other news outlets don’t exist. It’s a necessary part of being a competitive business enterprise.

Read the rest of this post at This Is Reno.

A 7-point checklist for crisis preparedness and management

Fire 204x300 A 7 point checklist for crisis preparedness and managementCrises, by definition, cannot always be predicted. Nevertheless, businesses and organizations can be prepared for unfortunate events, including attacks from consumers, product defects, and other crises that can damage a bottom line and personal reputations. Crisis planning is one way to mitigate damage during controversy and heavy media scrutiny. Embedded practices, however, are also crucial. This means regular behaviors within organizations that can help mitigate damage and aid the flow of information during a controversy or crisis. Absent regular communications practices, crisis damage may be deepened by poor communication. Here are seven tips that can benefit any organization when controversy or crisis erupts. Have an established chain of command, and follow it.  Police, fire, and other emergency responders know the chain-of-command concept well—or they should. It tends to be less-familiar territory for communicators and CEOs. Read the rest of this post at Ragan’s PR Daily.

A 7-point checklist for crisis preparedness and management

Fire 204x300 A 7 point checklist for crisis preparedness and managementCrises, by definition, cannot always be predicted.

Nevertheless, businesses and organizations can be prepared for unfortunate events, including attacks from consumers, product defects, and other crises that can damage a bottom line and personal reputations.

Crisis planning is one way to mitigate damage during controversy and heavy media scrutiny. Embedded practices, however, are also crucial. This means regular behaviors within organizations that can help mitigate damage and aid the flow of information during a controversy or crisis. Absent regular communications practices, crisis damage may be deepened by poor communication.

Here are seven tips that can benefit any organization when controversy or crisis erupts.

Have an established chain of command, and follow it. 

Police, fire, and other emergency responders know the chain-of-command concept well—or they should. It tends to be less-familiar territory for communicators and CEOs. Read the rest of this post at Ragan’s PR Daily.

Spin! How the news media misinform, 8 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 8 of 8CHAPTER 2, PART 8  of 8

From Spin! How the News Media Misinform and Why Consumers Misunderstand, by Bob Conrad, Ph.D.

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Oversight, or not

Given the significant potential for misinformation by unknowledgeable gatekeepers, and the increasing inability to check facts, it would seem that, as with most other types of organizations, an external level of accountability over newsrooms would be beneficial.

Those of us who work in government are used to high levels of oversight to ensure accountability. It’s an imperfect system, one that can increase bureaucracy and inefficiencies. Yet imagine the outcry if government entities were to run themselves the same way newsrooms self-correct errors, if they do.

Granted, these two types of systems are radically different, and a comparison between government entities and newsrooms is unfair. At the same time, there’s something to be said for systems of accountability in which others exercise control over operations in order to ensure we are not, at the end of the day, kidding ourselves.

The absence of formal oversight over news media is both essential and problematic. The media need the right to be wrong in order to ultimately ensure a free press. The long-standing American history of the relatively free, uncensored press is practically set in stone and for good reason. The news must be free if in fact the public is to be informed. This freedom, though, also guarantees the right to be wrong.

This means that First Amendment freedoms come with a price. For the news media, freedom of the press means different things to different people. Many reporters assume such freedom automatically removes them from any role other than that of information disseminator – unless, of course, that role has managed to influence a policy change of some sort. Then the news role becomes something to be championed. (News outlets frequently boast of their own press awards, which almost always receive mention on their editorial pages and beyond, especially, for example, when a major policy change occurred or somebody ended up in jail, as a result of their reporting.)

Why reporters purposefully adopt such an unassuming stance is puzzling to those of us outside newsrooms, particularly if we are also on the receiving end of negative stories. An examination is therefore needed into what actually goes on in the journalist’s mind when he or she is reporting – and how audiences interpret news reports.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Spin: How the media misinform, 7 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin: How the media misinform, 7 of 8From Spin! How the News Media Misinform and Why Consumers Misunderstand, by Bob Conrad, Ph.D.

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 

Chapter 2, part 7 of 8

Increased inaccuracies and mistrust

Despite the increasing influence of citizen journalists, mistrust of news continues to grow rapidly. The Pew Research Center (www.people-press.org) released in 2009 its annual report examining public evaluations of the news media. The subtitle of the Pew’s news release at the time: “Press accuracy rating hits two-decade low.”

Pew’s 2011 report had similar findings. Even though citizens view news organizations as more credible than government and business, “negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures the Pew Research Center has been tracking since 1985.”

The reason for this new low is, in part, because reporters do not have adequate systems in place to ensure accuracy or fairness. Instead, it is up to bloggers, researchers and, sometimes, other media to analyze and report contextual errors, furthering the power of information shapers outside of the traditional newsroom.

Nothing illustrates this better than how the press report on complex information, such as scientific issues. Others are often left to correct serious errors or omissions committed within news reports about scientific issues. Research about the news media explains why these errors occur.

In 2000, two researchers from Texas A&M University conducted a study of 88 journalists from 62 of the largest U.S. newspapers. One of the study’s findings, by Tom Vestal and Gary Briers, was that journalists’ knowledge of biotechnology was lower than their perceived knowledge of the field. In short, the reporters and editors who participated believed they knew more about biotechnology than they actually did.

Other studies may explain why reporters have such views of their own knowledge. Agricultural communications research has delved into reporter accuracy about agricultural issues – from normal farm practices to biotechnology – to understand journalists’ knowledge and beliefs.

One study surveyed Arkansas newspaper editors. It found that they had no formal agricultural training or background, yet they were charged with determining if agricultural news was indeed newsworthy.

Another study found that negative newspaper coverage of Oklahoma swine production was written by reporters who did not have an agricultural background.

In another study, examining The Associated Press news between 1997-2000, found that less than one-half of the statements made in agricultural news articles contained sentences with verifiable facts.

Finally, in an analysis of organic food news media coverage, researchers found that news media generally frame organic agriculture positively. They wrote: “… the positive attitudes toward organic agriculture are already in place, even if they may be based on marginal scientific evidence.”

More recently, a CNN report glowingly covered a supposed clean-energy technology that had elsewhere been debunked, without any pretense of fact checking.

When reporters report on issues for which they have little knowledge, they often lack the awareness to ask the most important questions, and they tend to choose sources that may or may not have the necessary expertise about the topic being covered.

In addition, as newsrooms have been downsized, the ability for reporters and editors to take time to adequately fact-check stories has also diminished, especially when it comes to scientific or complex issues, including medicine, health, law and government policies.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Spin! How the news media misinform, 6 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 6 of 8

CHAPTER 2, PART 6  of 8

From Spin! How the News Media Misinform and Why Consumers Misunderstand, by Bob Conrad, Ph.D.

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the Kindle. Get a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The historical influence of citizen journalists was maintained in the vibrant independent press. Ben Franklin is one example, as was the long-standing publication I.F. Stones’ Weekly, called a “journalistic triumph of the 20th century.”

According to a Stone biographer, Myrsa MacPherson, “Stone went from a young iconoclast in the 1930s to an icon during the Vietnam War. In the fifties, he spoke to mere handfuls who dared surface to protest Cold War loyalty oaths and witch hunts. A decade later, he spoke to half a million who massed for anti-Vietnam War rallies. He became world famous.”

Stone, however, was an aberration in terms of popularity. The underground press grew and waned in popularity in certain periods of history, such as the sixties, but it was generally more easily ignored as circulation numbers frequently could not compete with mainstream media.

The so-called ‘zine revolution of the 1990s, in which personal computers, desktop publishing software and Kinko’s enabled anyone to publish (maga)zines, was popularized in the mainstream press, for example. This revolution was but a spark of what was to come.

Now, bloggers and citizens regularly break news – via text messages, posts, tweets and instantly uploaded photographs and video – to the point that citizens are frequently the most critical witnesses to historic events.

When the news media are honest, they credit their citizen sources and may even link back to them online. The role of the press has therefore been irreversibly changed.

Is it possible then, that news media watchdoggery now signifies an inflated sense of self-importance based on the historic significance of journalism in society rather than on a true reflection of the press’ current role? Some signs are pointing toward answering this question with a “yes.”

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Spin! How the news media misinform, 5 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 5 of 8I am posting the introduction and first two chapters of my new book over the next few weeks.

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon. I am also giving away a limited number of advance, review copies to those willing to review it on Amazon, or on news sites or blogs, prior to the release date of Jan. 3, 2012. Email me for details.

CHAPTER 2, PART 5 of 8

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Part of the problem with the press is that as self-appointed “watchdogs,” journalists often believe that they are the most capable people to fulfill the role of society’s protectors – protecting us from ourselves.

It’s an embedded perspective, one with history and evidence to back it up. The First Amendment essentially guarantees the right to a free press. As societies become more democratic, the press, playing the role of watchdogs, influence government transparency. There is a symbiotic relationship: freer societies have freer presses, which in turn keep government in check.

However, technological advances have begun to alter this dynamic.

The watchdog role can belong to anyone with the means to transmit information about, say, corporate malfeasance. Media members fall into a historically protected structure with a typically guaranteed large audience, via television, print newspapers, news magazines and weeklies.

Today, citizen journalists are increasingly the news breakers. They document breaking news simply because they are where news happens, and they have the technology to transmit information to potentially global audiences via social networks.

Historically, the freedom of the press was mostly guaranteed to those who owned one. Now virtually anyone can share information online. As a result, the role of protected media is diminishing. Citizens now have more power to shape and influence news, and citizens who appoint themselves as journalists are receiving the same protections as traditional journalists. In 2009, for example, the New York Police Department issued press credentials to three bloggers who had sued New York City when they were originally denied credentials.

More and more, citizen journalists benefit from the same legal protections as news journalists. Jason Chen, writer for the popular technology website Gizmodo, bought a secret iPhone prototype and counteracted a claim that he was in possession of the phone illegally. Chen’s home was raided by law enforcement and his computer equipment seized after he published photographs of the phone online.

In the end, California shield laws and the First Amendment essentially kept Chen from facing prosecution for buying the phone from the two people who originally found it, after it was accidentally left in a bar by an Apple employee. Chen’s rationale for buying the phone: it was part of a journalistic investigation. This defense kept him from facing further prosecution.

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Spin! How the news media misinform, 4 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 4 of 8I am posting the introduction and first two chapters of my new book over the next few weeks.

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon. I am also giving away a limited number of advance, review copies to those willing to review it on Amazon, or on news sites or blogs, prior to the release date of Jan. 3, 2012. Just email me for details.

CHAPTER 1, PART 4

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The American Left’s favorite punching bag, Sarah Palin, should be thanked for one thing: her ability to draw out the nastiness of her media critics. Palin’s shortcomings, which are many, help elicit inherent problems with news media reporting that might otherwise go unnoticed.

There’s something about Palin that emboldens news media to seemingly go out of the way to misconstrue news about her or to simply create a kind of context that might not otherwise exist. Palin makes a good target, one that media quickly and somewhat cavalierly defend their actions against, after going on the attack.

This is not necessarily referring to left- or right-wing bias in the media, however. Even though a study by UCLA political scientist Tim Groseclose, published in the December 2005 issue of Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that major news media are moderate but have a measurable lean to the left, the bias against Palin and many other public figures is, by most appearances, inherent in the news journalism business.

It is, in fact, business-as-usual news reporting that is flawed and is too often seemingly incapable of portraying a complete context for what happens in real life. It is not just partisan news that is problematic: the news business in general that is fraught with the potential to drive innuendo and encourage misinformation – a point made repeatedly in Lanny Davis’ book Truth to Tell, about when he worked under then President Bill Clinton and witnessed stories driven by mere allegation even when facts were absent.

Palin and many public figures know this too well. What is most striking about her appearance on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 2009 – in which she is portrayed in a runner’s outfit with the bold question: “How do you solve a problem like Sarah Palin?” – is the defense by Newsweek to justify context creation, despite the potential illegalities of reproducing that particular photo in the first place. The photograph was originally shot for Runner’s World magazine and used by Newsweek without permission, according to a statement posted by Runner’s World on its website.

Newsweek insisted that its choice of cover photographs was appropriate. Newsweek’s then Editor Jon Meacham, after coming under fire for the use of the photograph, said: “We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do.”

Which is why what constitutes news is often deceptive. It routinely (re)defines context and frames agendas for us rather than taking a stricter stance of merely reporting information. It is an attitude in which reporters deem – influenced likely by their training in journalism schools – that they are qualified to shape context.

Meacham, like many journalists, is cavalier as an interpreter of information. The processes of reporting and interpreting news put reporters in the position of making decisions about news for the presumed benefit of their audiences.

David Barker, staff writer for the State News, a newspaper published by the students of Michigan State University, explained the reporting process this way: “As reporters, we aren’t simply people who regurgitate facts. We gather information and test its veracity. Our job requires that we interpret and shape information – contextually and factually – for the reader.

“Our job is to tell stories, to make facts relevant, but never to skew them.”

But the process of interpreting and shaping information is precisely what begins the progression of skewing information, deliberately or otherwise. Barker basically admitted to this. His lead sentence in a column from 2009, stated: “This just in: News is not objective.” But he attempted to soften the reporting reality by denying that interpretation has the potential to skew. He wrote:

“We have a code of ethics because our jobs require us to decide not only what is essential, but pertinent.

“After that, it’s up to the reader to decide.”

Inserting oneself into the position of deciding what’s relevant is the first place where bias initially occurs. Scientists know this, which is why double-blind studies are so critical to research; indeed, human health and safety are dependent upon blind studies for medicine so that lives will be saved. Double-blind studies are when even the researchers are unaware of which group is getting an actual treatment versus a fake treatment, or a placebo. By taking themselves out of the equation, or blinding themselves to variables of what they are researching, scientists reduce their potential for bias.

Reporters on the other hand are critical components in the filtering process, such as deciding what is newsworthy. Barker, at least, was refreshingly honest about his role as a journalist.

His colleagues, however, seem too often to lack this characteristic.

Such is the case with the process of attempting to correct news, let alone context. Media personnel have an essentially black-and-white moral obligation of speaking for the masses with a frequent disregard for their own accountability in fulfilling the role of watchdog. This is most evident when they commit errors in their reporting.

It may be possible to get factual mistakes corrected in the news, usually a day or two later. The correction, however, is given with far less prominence than the original news story. Even then, the corrections are sometimes questionable, as the site Regret the Error (www.regrettheerror.com), which documents news errors and corrections, frequently points out.

What happens when context is incorrect or distorted? Not much. Reporters and editors are typically quick to respond defensively when called onto the carpet for miscontextualizations, as the Newsweek / Palin example shows.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Spin! How the news media misinform, 3 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 3 of 8I am posting the introduction and first two chapters of my new book over the next few weeks.

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon. I am also giving away a limited number of advance, review copies to those willing to review it on Amazon, or on news sites or blogs, prior to the release date of Jan. 3, 2012. Just email me for details.

INTRODUCTION, PART 3

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

In this book, I make the case that reporters and editors are the creators of “spin,” despite claims or assumptions of objectivity and fairness. News outlets, news magazines in particular, “long ago realized their job is to interpret the news, not to report it,” as one commenter on my blog explained. This perspective is used as justification for context revision, and to me, this is reason for concern. Interpretation can too often lead to misconstruing and even fabricating news, especially if the reporter does not adequately understand the issues on which he or she is reporting.

Journalists are meant to strive toward objectivity, but the process of news reporting – contrary to claims by many journalists – rather than being designed to enhance objectivity, is prone to bias. The previously mentioned he-said/she-said fallacy is one example. This book examines in detail many more.

Undoubtedly, one complaint this book will receive is going to be of the ad hominem variety: “Well, aren’t you a professional spin doctor?” Or the straw man question: “Why don’t you criticize spin by the likes of corporate PR defenders?” While such questions are irrelevant to the intention of this book, these points deserve to be addressed.

Public relations personnel are employed to promote and defend their clients and organizations. I believe PR professionals should also strive to be objective in their roles. By adopting a holistic view, and by candidly providing to clients and employers the perceptions people outside of the organization have of their company, public relations counselors can actually play a pre-emptive role for clients and employers. This perspective may help mitigate potentially negative press coverage and prevent or minimize crisis events.

That said, it is critical to note that PR has a defined role for an organization, so bias is inherent in that position. The distinction between news reporting and public relations advocacy (advocacy that is included in the Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics) is obvious. When done ineptly, PR fiascoes tend to receive swift news coverage, frequently negative, to the point of regularity. Poorly conveyed and unethical PR imbroglios could fill multiple volumes.

What is much less obvious is how news reporters and editors spin news. That is what this book explores.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Spin! How the news media misinform, 2 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 2 of 8I am posting the introduction and first two chapters of my new book over the next few weeks.

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon. I am also giving away a limited number of advance, review copies to those willing to review it on Amazon, or on news sites or blogs, prior to the release date of Jan. 3, 2012. Just email me for details.

INTRODUCTION, PART 2

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

My subsequent research paper, titled “Ingredients for Misinformation: A look at the Barriers Between Scientific Knowledge and Public Perception,” was presented at the Educator’s Academy for the Public Relations Society of America’s 2006 Conference. During the presentation, one astute public relations professor did not appear happy with my research – especially when I suggested journalism students be required to take courses in statistics and research.

She asked: “What is your bias?”

Regretfully, I did not have a good answer at the time. I had not even considered that question, now so obvious given the topic at hand. My biases should be acknowledged, though, so here is how I consume information.

In my position as the public information officer for Nevada’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, my news sources are diverse. This is something I consider a requirement for a more complete news perspective. Every possible Nevada news media outlet is in my Google Reader, and I receive daily Google Alerts from news sites, blogs and websites mentioning search terms related to our department. This process allows me to then post on our Facebook and Twitter accounts news relevant to what we do. By receiving information from potentially unlimited sources, I am able to see what information producers of all stripes are saying about us.

I usually do not take a position on the coverage being either positive or negative. Stories that might reflect negatively on the department’s agencies have as much luck being reposted by me as do positive stories. Since much of what we do is by nature controversial, I believe that pointing to positive, negative and neutral information shows that we do not shy away from any relevant press coverage, something I recommend of all organizations. If a news report is misleading or inaccurate, reposting it also gives us the opportunity to quickly and publicly respond to our followers; something I occasionally find necessary.

When I consume general Nevada news, I peruse the state’s three main newspapers online daily, if not multiple times a day. If I read a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, I will also read the versions in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun, the latter two being my favorite Nevada news websites.

I rarely watch national television news and I do not receive cable news. I find television news in general to be too sensationalist and superficial (especially the cable networks), and the reception where I live is not good enough to view local news. If something on television news is of interest, I will watch it online.

For general news, my outlet of choice is National Public Radio. NPR programs cover science and worldly topics with a depth and consistency not found in other media. While I believe NPR to have a political leaning to the left – most noticeable by its lack of right-leaning commentators – I find that it does not shy away from topics due to political bent, and it seems to present non-fringe perspectives fairly. To me it’s one of the few media outlets striving to be both worldly and thoughtful while remaining easily accessible.

That’s not to say NPR is perfect. I take issue with the repetitive use of its own and other journalists as sources for many stories, rather than turning to subject-matter experts related to the topics being covered. There is also a tendency by some news hosts to interject opinions unnecessarily. In order to counter these tendencies, I value NPR’s story follow-ups, where it freely admits goofs and airs listeners’ counter perspectives. Nevertheless, I listen to the radio skeptically.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Spin! How the news media misinform, 1 of 8

Front Cover 72 199x300 Spin! How the news media misinform, 1 of 8I am posting the introduction and first two chapters of my new book over the next few weeks.

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon. I am also giving away a limited number of advance, review copies to those willing to review it on Amazon, or on news sites or blogs, prior to the release date of Jan. 3, 2012. Just email me for details.

INTRODUCTION

From Spin! How the News Media Misinform and Why Consumers Misunderstand, by Bob Conrad, Ph.D.

Now available at Amazon in paperback, Smashwords and for the KindleGet a free review copy by emailing me.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

In 2003, I wrote a research paper for a doctoral seminar in educational leadership. In it I explored why academic personnel face challenges communicating complex information, such as scientific research, to the public. I was working at the time as a marketing communications professional at the University of Nevada, Reno. My job was to help promote the science and news coming out of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources. I experienced those communications challenges firsthand, and I wanted to better understand why the obstacles exist.

My research explored academic disciplines as diverse as science communications, social psychology, media studies and behavioral economics.

What I found took me by surprise.

It was obvious that I, as a public relations professional, had a bias – to promote science news. What I did not expect to see was how reporters also mold news – but in a different way, a way that demeaned the facts of the science being reported. As an undergraduate journalism student in the early 1990s, I had always been taught that accuracy and context were top priorities in news reporting, but research showed how both get blurred to the point of journalists actually being the purveyors of misinformation, intentionally or not.

Let me illustrate what I mean. If a scientist is granted a multimillion-dollar award to study drought tolerance for crop plants in arid countries, the scientific community would likely consider this good news. However, this news can suddenly be devalued the minute the news media seek an alternate perspective to the research. Frequently, news reporters will approach activist and advocacy organizations for comment about myriad topics. In the case of genetic modification of crop plants, anti-biotechnology activists are frequently quoted in the press.

This alternate perspective may or may not have the reader’s interests in mind. It may not have society’s interests in mind. It may skew facts in all sorts of creative ways. It may even flat-out lie. But if the reporter has sought out this other perspective, then he or she has technically presented what is assumed to be both sides of the story. The news story objective, then, is technically complete.

Contrasting science with an advocacy perspective is problematic, though. While science is ever-evolving, and subject to change as new discoveries are made, the science of genetic modification, in this case, is not controversial among these researchers. Plant biotechnologists view their work as far more precise, and therefore safer to humans, than what plant breeders have been doing for thousands of years.

Among the less-informed public, however, biotechnology tends to be viewed as controversial. It is not uncommon for something like Round-up Ready alfalfa, a genetically modified plant that is resistant to the herbicide Roundup, to be treated with suspicion. On the other hand, consumption of modern wheat, even if organic, is widespread among humans. Yet domestic wheat began to be genetically altered by early farmers more than 10,000 years ago.

To present an antithetical view of biotechnology by non-scientists, then, creates a false dichotomy. Our entire food production system has flourished because of historic and clumsy genetic modification, but modern genetic modification by food conglomerates and scientists is still viewed with skepticism. Meanwhile, organic foods are viewed more favorably in the press despite no verifiable health benefits from eating organics. In general, journalists have reported on biotechnology by presenting a scientific view and contrasting it with anti-biotechnology advocacy perspectives.

Journalism scholar Jay Rosen calls this “he-said/she-said” journalism. He says that this reporting “is not so much a truth-telling strategy as refuge-seeking behavior that fits well into newsroom production demands.”

Author and science writer, Chris Mooney, devoted an entire article to this topic in the November/December, 2004 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. It was called “Blinded by Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality.”

The “Making Light” blog, written by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, simply calls the he-said/she-said reporting process a “regression toward a phony mean.”

Despite what it’s called, this practice of always providing two competing perspectives – one of which is often in support of an advocacy agenda – can paint a distorted portrait of reality. Research shows that audiences tend to believe contrary information over credible, science-based information when the two are presented side-by-side. It would seem that the process of doing so is actually counter to the aims of quality journalism.

In short, the he-said/she-said fallacy is a staple of the news we consume each day. Rather than enlighten the public, it actually serves to misinform.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Sales Lead Management Association discusses crisis communications

SLMA ShowLogo red Sales Lead Management Association discusses crisis communicationsI’ll be the guest today at 5 pm on the Sales Lead Management Association Radio program.

I will be discussing crisis communications in general as well as some examples of how the new media enable crises and misinform the public; Toyota, for example. In addition, I may cover some of what’s coming up in my new book. I hope you can tune in.

Here’s the link.

Why higher education PR frequently fails (Penn State, UC Davis)

OccupyUCDavis LtJohnPike PepperSpray 111811 300x202 Why higher education PR frequently fails (Penn State, UC Davis)The problems with the public relations industry extend far beyond its frequent infractions and the unwillingness to follow the profession’s code of ethics, despite lecturing others for not doing the same.

As a generalist profession, public relations frequently steps into territory for which its practitioners are not technically trained. A recent tract claimed that PR pros would make great CEOs. “After all, who else besides a CEO or chairman has their finger on the pulse of a business more deeply or prominently than a PR professional?” asks the Public Relations Society of America.

Although PR training involves extensive study into PR planning, “research,” case-study analysis and news release writing, PR commentators frequently provide unsolicited expertise on all manner of business and leadership: policy, finance, laws, human resources, operations – and now, the ability to be a CEO and chairman.

The classic case of legal counsel micromanaging PR responses during a controversy frequently pales in comparison to PR counsel extending into leadership and business issues for which PR pros are frequently unqualified. As documented here and here, PR folks are quick to rush to judgment when a high-profile crisis makes news. PR people, especially empowered commentators, are no friends of those being vilified in the press.

This post, for example, benefits from a liberal amount of hindsight bias in regards to Penn State. It has three points.

The first is that “they failed to express concern for the victims.” Such a statement relies on news reporting as being representative of truth. It’s safe to assume that with her experience, the author has witnessed misrepresentations of her clients in the press; ignoring this, however, she does not give Penn State the benefit of doubt.

The second point is that “they forgot their key audience … children.”  Higher education institutions operate and serve multiple – and frequently competing – constituencies, some of which are amorphous, especially during a crisis event. To assume that “children” are key among audiences prior to a press shitstorm is fantasy based only on cheap hindsight.

The third is that “they failed to plan ahead.” Ahead of what? The student reaction to JoePa’s firing. Apparently under the gun to do something right, Penn State trustees acted rashly. By definition, though, a crisis is something that cannot be fully anticipated; therefore, responses will nearly always be imperfect.

The very nature of complex organizations means that there is always a potential crisis lurking. It’s disingenuous to assume PR counselors can conjure which will become national headlines at any given moment.

Another point about acting with good intentions is also made. Ask the presumed villains at Penn State if they acted appropriately, and the answer will be an unequivocal “yes.” In fact, they have.

These points, while appropriate from a PR perspective (yes, organizations should plan for crises; yes, they should behave positively in society; and yes, they need to consider unintended audiences), ignore the complex and unique structure of universities.

As loosely coupled systems, higher education institutions frequently operate as their own quasi-governmental organizations, similar to a city government but more complex because an institution’s service area is frequently not always based on proximity to constituents. Such organizations are simply too unwieldy to fully comprehend what is and is not going on at any given moment.

This means there is no perfect response to a crisis without some level of negative press or “bad PR.” In regards to both Penn State and UC Davis, the latter having been dubbed UC PepperSpray this past weekend, it is likely a number of questions behind the scenes are being entertained:

  • “Which decisions will defuse the situation the quickest?”
  • “Which decisions will risk losing confidence of law enforcement?”
  • “Which decisions will risk losing confidence of faculty?”
  • “Which decisions will risk losing more confidence of students?”
  • “Which decisions will risk losing confidence of donors and alumni?”
  • “Which decisions will cost the least in terms of litigation?”
  • “Which decisions will have the least negative consequences for the institution over the long term?”
  • “To what degree should solid legal grounding sacrifice transparency, and vice versa?”

Acting on any one of these means there will be losers, a common consequence of decision-making in higher education; it is a rare leader who can weather these kinds of storms with grace and equanimity.

Ask Lt. John Pike, and undoubtedly the law enforcement union the likely backs him, how supported by Davis officials he feels right about now. His answer is probably akin to Duke’s lacrosse team players in 2006. They ultimately received settlements from suing Duke after being falsely accused of crimes. Arguably, Duke President Richard Broadhead handled that situation as best as possible given the circumstance.

Therefore, to look at these situations in terms of being “right” or “good” is PR nonsense. Public relations in higher education is far more complex than to embrace the basic rules of crisis communications.

Rushing to judgment — again (Cain, Sandusky)

HermanCain 282x300 Rushing to judgment    again (Cain, Sandusky)The power of perception should never be underestimated. Despite our best intentions, the human mind is incredibly prone to fallacies. Michael Shermer’s latest, The Believing Brain, convincingly explains the faulty natures of the human mind.

Of particular importance is what Shermer calls patternicity, “or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.”

Shermer cites at the Scientific American researchers Kevin Foster (Harvard) and Hanna Kokko (University of Helsinki), who wrote in 2008 about patternicity: “The inability of individuals – human or otherwise – to assign causal probabilities to all sets of events that occur around them will often force them to lump causal associations with non-causal ones.”

It’s why in part, Shermer says, humans believe weird things. By extension, I add that it’s also why we are prone to believe media hype, particularly about alleged scandalous behavior.

Lanny Davis noticed a trend in news reporting while working as a special advisor to then President Bill Clinton. It was what he called “connect-the-dots” reporting. Journalists would dig for events, anecdotes and occurrences, piece them together and would then create a pattern of (mis)behavior by politicians; in this case, Clinton.

It’s evident, however, that this kind of journalism ultimately demonstrates one or more cognitive fallacies, such as confirmation bias, the misinterpretation of regression (if an extreme has been observed in a population, journalists may falsely predict another extreme), eyewitness testimony and illusory correlation, which is the overestimation of the relationship between events.

In theory, peer review guards against these fallacies prior to being published as research. Not so in the newsroom. These fallacies frequently guide news coverage, and no newsroom is immune.

In the past week there have been charged allegations against presidential hopeful Herman Cain and Penn State coaches and officials. Many have rushed to judgment in both cases. The latter was more believable because of a grand-jury indictment.

This is despite proclamations of innocence. Cain claimed he never acted inappropriately; Sandusky from Penn State claimed innocence and said he never raped children. Penn State’s former President Spanier also said he acted appropriately, and two others at Penn vowed to fight charges against them.

It needs to be stressed that in PR shitstorms, we never really know what’s going on behind the scenes. Even the key players may not know what’s going on, and people are fired not for what they did but simply because of outside pressure. Perception guides beliefs, actions and consequences. We may never know the full truth behind the Penn State scandal; if Sandusky is found guilty in the legal arena, justice should be served.

But recent and not-so-recent scandals should serve as cautionary tells about deducing guilt based on what’s being reported in the press.

It’s as if we didn’t learn from Audi, which was cleared of charges of faulty accelerators in the late 1980s.

Peen State Jerry Sandusky 272x300 Rushing to judgment    again (Cain, Sandusky)It’s as if we didn’t learn from Toyota, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed was not at fault for unintended accelerations; instead, driver error played a noted role in publicized crashes and deaths. (The Associated Press remained uncharitable toward Toyota after the NHTSA’s findings were released. Rather than focus on the issue of human error, the AP simply explained: “Toyota acceleration problem not caused by electronic flaw.”)

It’s as if we didn’t learn from the Satanic-ritual and day-care sex abuse scandals of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

It’s as we didn’t learn from the Duke University lacrosse team scandal in 2006.

In each case, the “evidence” was portrayed as convincing in news reporting. “Alleged victims” quickly became “victims. ” PR experts knowingly commented on each scenario while their subtexts assumed guilt based not on first-hand information, but on news reporting. People’s reputations were damaged, fines were paid and some even served jail time.

We now know, of course, that in each of these cases, actual wrongdoing was minimal or absent. Yet many at the time assumed guilt of the parties being charged. For Toyota, a “crisis guru” demanded that Toyota set up a restitution fund for victims. At Duke, 88 professors published a statement in the Duke student newspaper that assumed guilt of the lacrosse team players accused of raping and beating stripper, allegations that were ultimately found to be false.

What is certain is that the news media need a scandal, a hot topic. Allegations are powerful and can easily guide perceptions. Patternicity explains why people, even those who should know better, tend to believe allegations portrayed in the press.

History should also teach us, however, that truth is muddied in news coverage, and that the place to determine actual guilt is in the courts, often long after hype has dissipated.

In the meantime, assuming guilt based on allegations – even grand-jury indictments are faulty – means only that we’ve succumbed to faulty reasoning influenced by topical media coverage.

 

Ph.D. forum interview: Media coverage of crises in higher education

I would like to thank Bruce Hurwitz for the nice interview yesterday. I could talk about my dissertation for a long time, and he was kind enough to chat me at length about it for Blogtalkradio. The complete interview is below.

Listen to internet radio with Bruce Hurwitz on Blog Talk Radio

What PRSA’s survey results really mean, part 3

Hear No See No Speak No Evil image by Billy Rowlinson. Used under Creative Commons licensing. http://www.flickr.com/photos/billyrowlinson/3515157369/

The citizen and media-friendly website, Public Agenda, has handy guides for understanding surveys, polls and the nuances that go into what constitutes scientific polling. This guide for journalists has 20 questions that should be asked about surveys. Among them is this: How were (the survey participants) chosen?

Amazingly, a randomly sampled population means that only about 1,000 people can be surveyed, or polled, in order to generalize the survey’s results across “more than 210 million American adults.”

The key word is random. Not just any survey with 1,000 respondents will yield the same level of confidence in the results. This is a small but critical point the Public Relations Society of America is muddying with its presentation of the Society’s recent member survey results. (Read here and here for parts one and two in this series.)

In a recent post on the PRSAY blog, David Rockland of Ketchum, PRSA’s PR agency contracted to conduct its surveys, insists that PRSA’s survey methodology is sound. What Rockland and PRSA leaders have not presented is the importance of a random sample versus what PRSA did, which was to sample all 21,000 PRSA members.

The consequence is that the most likely survey errors experienced by PRSA are a non-response error, described as “the bias introduced when individuals invited to take the survey do not take the survey,” and self-selection bias.

 “Respondents who volunteer to participate in such surveys tend to be more extreme or otherwise very different in their views than those who do not. In no way can they be said to be representative of the population, so the survey results cannot be used to say anything useful about a target population.”

PRSA will not reveal the survey’s response rate (nor will it say how much it paid Ketchum to conduct the survey). A calculation of total membership versus those who took the survey shows a likely response rate of about 5 percent.

Rockland says the respondents were “1,126 current members, 202 lapsed members and 584 people who have never been a member. To put that into perspective, most surveys you see in the news have a sample size of 1,000 for the entire American public. Results of this study are projectable to the overall populations within the respective margins of error at the 95-percent confidence level.”

PRSA extrapolated its survey results to its entire membership, saying that “responses were weighted to the overall profile of the PRSA membership in terms of tenure in the PR industry. This is to ensure results approximate the membership as closely as possible, and is a standard practice in survey research.”

Survey experts are clear that higher response rates are only needed up to a point, if the actual people surveyed are randomly selected. PRSA put a call out to its entire membership and surveyed them online, another variant that can skew the validity of the responses. Surveying an entire population and then receiving a 5-percent response rate puts the overall responses in doubt since it is unlikely that 5 percent represents the entire PRSA membership.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research calls this SLOP (self-selected listener opinion poll) polling: “Respondents who volunteer to participate in such surveys tend to be more extreme or otherwise very different in their views than those who do not. In no way can they be said to be representative of the population, so the survey results cannot be used to say anything useful about a target population.”

Rockland disagrees: “No matter how you slice the data, or quibble with one number or another, the overall finding of ‘significant improvement over 2008 and high current levels of member engagement’ holds true.” (It should be noted that significance in research is a deliberate statistical term often confused by the lay public as meaning important. Rockland’s use of the term is unclear.)

He also says that whatever bias PRSA saw in its survey results was also in the 2008 survey results, but that the change between surveys is what’s important: “…this bias would be as much the case in the study we did in 2008 as it would this year, so in terms of looking at changes, we are fine.” In other words, survey bias is less important because PRSA only needs to see change from one survey to the next.

Most telling, however, is when Rockland says that criticism of the survey interferes with progress. He writes: “… the worst thing one can do is spend time trying to find what could be right or wrong in the data, versus taking action in continuing to move PRSA in the positive direction it is going.”

PRSA would prefer that this positive direction not be muddied by criticism. When PRSA leaders make grandiose claims about satisfaction among its members, and fail to provide supporting information used to make those pronouncements – in contradiction to its own ethics code and best practices recommendations – the Society expects its members to accept these claims without question.

The net outcome of PRSA’s survey is that there are no problems evident in the results, only a few “opportunities for improvement.”

What PRSA’s survey results really mean, part 2

The Public Relations Society of America promised in May that a final report of its 2011 member survey would be made available to its membership “later this summer.” But when results of the survey were announced recently by PRSA President and CEO Rosanna Fiske, what was presented was her version of the survey results.

The actual results were nowhere to be found.

An email was sent to PRSA asking where the actual results were. PRSA originally refused to release the results, citing competitive reasons, even though its 2008 survey results had been available online. A day later, however, PRSA posted the 2011 results on its PRSAY blog.

The results, as presented, contradicted Fiske’s otherwise glowing review what members appeared to be thinking.

Only 56 percent of the survey respondents indicate “satisfaction with membership.” To those of us who attempt to practice ethical PR, an obvious emphasis should be on improving upon whatever is leading to 44 percent of members being less than satisfied.

Instead, potentially negative information wasn’t mentioned either in the results or in Fiske’s blog post. More to the point, a basic calculation about the number of PRSA members who responded to the survey shows that very little should have been inferred from the survey in the first place.

The reason why has to do with basic survey methodology.

PRSA’s survey error

PRSA wrote that “Ketchum worked with Braun Research to complete online interviews with: 1,126 current members, 202 lapsed members, and 584 never members.” It is unclear how these members were chosen and how well they represent the total membership, two points which PRSA recommends doing as best practices when reporting survey results. How members were chosen and how many responded are critical issues in determining the validity of the responses, as well as the accuracy of claims by PRSA leaders about the survey results.

Presumably, however, these interviews were the online surveys solicited to all members in June. PRSA says there are more than 21,000 members. If all members were surveyed, that means the response rate was about 5 percent*. More below…

From PRSA’s Code of Ethics

DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

Core Principle Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.

Intent:

To build trust with the public by revealing all information needed for responsible decision making.

Guidelines:

A member shall:

  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the member is responsible.
  • Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented.
  • Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
  • Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s organization.
  • Avoid deceptive practices.

It is likely PRSA experienced a sampling error with its recent member survey.  The problem is that an adequate response rate is subject to debate. (In my graduate survey research course, we were told we needed at least a 70-percent response rate in order to draw a reliable inference from survey results.) Nevertheless, this source discusses how to handle a low response rate.

A presumed 5-percent response rate* should be considered low; therefore, any inferences drawn from this survey should be made with a caveat that a low-response rate means it is difficult to generalize the results across the entire PRSA membership.

That’s not what PRSA did.

PRSA’s claims

PRSA choose instead to boast the following:

“…Our research shows that PRSA members not only value the National organization and their local Chapters almost equally, but also appreciate the National organization just a tiny bit more.” – William Murray, PRSA president and COO

“(Members) are … incredibly satisfied with the value of their PRSA membership.” – Rosanna Fiske, PRSA chair and CEO

PRSA’s response

When criticized for spinning the survey results, PRSA went on the offensive. Arthur Yann, APR, vice president of communications, accused this author of smearing the society and criticized the approval of a post comment by longtime PRSA critic Jack O’Dwyer, by saying that “you continue to entertain offensive, discriminatory, possibly libelous and certainly non-germane comments on your blog posts.”

Yann also accused this blog of providing a “selective interpretation” of the data even though the original post ended with this statement: “It is important to note that because of how the results are presented, more than one interpretation can be made…. I post my analysis to provide a perspective I believe is lacking in PRSA’s versions of the results.”

Fiske responded most reasonably, saying, “Any research needs greater context in order to synthesize the data. Providing our different perspectives here is part of that process.”

Indeed.

What is troubling is PRSA’s adherence to a perspective that seeks only to bolster the image of PRSA.  At a time – it’s ethics month – when the society is pushing for ethical practice, and rightfully calling to the carpet other organizations that suffer from ethical lapses – including the PR firm, Ketchum, that was contracted to do the PRSA survey – PRSA makes great effort to diminish, ignore and divert attention away from its own transgressions.

To call this disingenuous is to be charitable.

* PRSA said it would make other results available by request: “PRSA members may request access to specific data from the survey by sending an email prsay@prsa.org.” An email sent a week ago to three of PRSA’s communications personnel requesting the actual survey response rate, among other questions. The information has yet to be provided. This post will be updated if it is.

What PRSA’s member survey results really mean

PRSASurveyResults 300x210 What PRSA’s member survey results really mean

Click image to see actual member satisfaction with PRSA.

It took a bit of haggling, but PRSA posted this week its member-satisfaction survey results for 2011. After PRSA CEO and Chair Rosanna Fiske, APR blogged about the results, an obvious question was raised by myself and Alice Irvan, APR, PRC: Where are the actual results?

We wanted to see for ourselves what the member survey results were, not PRSA’s interpretation of them. By posting about the survey results and not THE survey results, a major strategic error was in the making, one that would likely incite its regular critic(s).

While PRSA has been cagey about certain issues affecting the society, it was relatively quick to respond transparently in this case. Particularly helpful was Arthur Yann, APR, vice president of public relations for PRSA. This is important because, ironically, one of the “top learnings” presented on slide 4 of the results  PRSA posted says, “PRSA needs to continue to focus on access to information….”

I would modify this to read: “PRSA needs to continue to improve access to information….” When PRSA decided to post the survey results in a slideshow format, the take-home messages were already written into the presentation.

One needs to look closely at what the data show, however. My particular interest was chapter versus national preferences. Since chapters will soon be voting on a potential dues increase from the national level, and I know for a fact many, if not most, of my local peers find more value in local offerings than what comes out of national, it is important to know whether this is a consistent trend across the Society.

It is. Read more below.

Data indicate PRSA members have the strongest interest in local chapters, followed next by interest in national. Interest in district-level activities is relatively low. For example, slide 6 shows understanding of local chapters ranks at 80%, versus 65% for the national level. How well do members understand what districts do? Only 26%.*

This is important for discussions about dues increases. It is clear that location plays a strong role in member and non-member knowledge of PRSA.

Moreover, satisfaction with membership (slide 7) is ranked at 56% for PRSA members while lapsed members rank satisfaction at only 39%. Slide 16 breaks down these data even further. Anywhere from 40 to 62 percent of members are satisfied with membership, depending on where they are time-wise in their careers.

But those willing to recommend a local chapter? The percentage range goes up: the lowest percentage is 47% while the highest is 70%. .

Fiske writes: “PRSA members are also incredibly satisfied with the value of their PRSA membership.” Not true. The results show there is a noted difference in attitude between local and national PRSA offerings. Member satisfaction (slide 7) in general is 56% for members. Calling this “incredibly satisfied” is disingenuous.

It is also, to me, somewhat startling. I want to know why. The text above the chart on slide 7 only indicates that, “despite low incidence of satisfaction, nearly one-fifth of lapsed members are likely to renew their membership.”

Another selective interpretation. This also means that four-fifths are not likely to renew their membership. Again: Why?

More to the point, the way these results are crafted and presented is not exactly academic in nature, but rather self-affirming. The summaries of the survey results as presented show feedback on what PRSA already does, not what it could be doing. In short, the results appear to have the aim of maintaining the status quo of PRSA national.

A more important question looms:  In the face of a relatively large dues increase from the national level, why should members pay more to PRSA national when local offerings appear more relevant to their careers?

*It is important to note that because of how the results are presented, more than one interpretation can be made. (Information is missing from the slideshow. PRSA said it only posted the top findings for competitive reasons.) I post my analysis to provide a perspective I believe is lacking in PRSA’s versions of the results. What do you think? Please comment below or on my Facebook page.