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