Cindy Brugge

A Public Relations Student

Would the forefathers of ethics be proud of public relations today?

As a public relations professional, I find myself occasionally put in ethical dilemmas, where the “right” thing to do doesn’t line up with what seems necessary in a situation. For these questionable situations, the Public Relations Society of America created a code of ethics for us to rely on. The code is broken into six values of ethical conduct. However, are these values in line with traditional ethical frameworks? Would our friends Aristotle and Kant agree with our public relations practices today? This post digs into each value and analyzes it from a traditional ethical framework to see if our ethics forefathers would support our practices today.

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Advocacy: As public relations practitioners, we agree to serve our client responsibly while considering public interest.

Aristotle would have agreed most comfortably with this value, through the lens of virtue ethics. Aristotle built virtue ethics around the philosophy of the golden mean, which claims that ethical actions are the middle ground of two extremes. Advocacy uses balance to keep a practitioner ethical. We must recognize the needs and desires of both of our audiences to decide upon our actions. We must always operate to serve both parties, rather than only acting to benefit the client. 

Honesty: Accuracy is paramount in public relations. We must be honest first and foremost, when communicating with the client and the public.

This value makes it clear: there is no excuse for dishonesty. The truth is our only option. Immanuel Kant, founder of deontology, would likely be on the same page. He believed we should do the right thing simply because it is right. PRSA values honesty and expects its members to abide by this value. However, the reasoning might have been slightly different than Kant. Our first priority is to speak truthfully because lies devalue our credibility. We recognize that lies portray a person negatively and make for bad relations with the media, which isn’t an option in our field. He might not agree with the motive but he would agree with our resolve to abstain from this major no-no.

Expertise: Public relations professionals must work to acquire and utilize specialized understanding. Through continued education and professional development, we must build credibility amongst our profession.

Acting in line with this value helps boost the community of PR professionals and, therefore, promotes communitarian ethics. We work as a group to advance the quality of the public relations profession. By pushing ourselves to create a better name for public relations, we deny our selfish desires to do what is easy in order to do what is best for the industry.  This value also motivates many people to help PR newbies. This cooperation is fundamental to PR ethics and communitarianism.

Independence: We are not the property of those we represent. Because we are held accountable for our actions, we must provide objective counsel to our clients.

The theory of egoism encourages one to act if it best serves his own long-term interest. This framework easily fits to this value. As PR practitioners, we are masters of our own fate. We should not operate in any way we do not feel comfortable because it will be our heads on the chopping block if we act unethically. It is very important that egoism considers long-term interest. Although it might seem that acting unethically is in my best interest at the moment, in the long-term it could be very detrimental. For example, if a client wants me to plagiarize someone else’s work. As a young low-level employee, I might feel uncomfortable speaking against my boss and might worry about losing my job. However, if it is uncovered that I plagiarized, I can face criminal charges and my industry will lose respect for me as a practitioner.

Ultimately, you are a free consultant. You choose your own fate. Act independently when considering ethical dilemmas.

Loyalty: Without forgetting our responsibility to serve the public interest, we remain loyal to those we represent.

Jeremy Bentham believed that we best course of action is the one that brings the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. His theory of utilitarianism sometimes overlooks the minority but sincerely aims to protect the public. In our profession, it’s important to consider this framework. We should primarily be servants to the public interest. Bentham would recognize that we should also be loyal to our clients because if we don’t serve them, then we could lose our jobs. It’s important to consider both and if stuck in a bad situation, turn to utilitarianism and ask, “Which option brings the greatest good to the greatest number?”

Fairness: This one is very specific, so here’s the direct quote from the Code of Ethics. “We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.”

Distributive justice is a framework that aims to consider the minority, which is also the goal of fairness. PRSA takes great care to mention all groups of people that we should protect and treat fairly. By considering EVERYONE, we can be sure that no one is being mistreated by our actions.

The PRSA has been thorough in their code of ethics. They have left no stone unturned and no framework unnoticed. If they were willing to look for our best, our ethics forefathers could find something to be proud of. As public relations practitioners, we can act confidently knowing that we have the support of the great ethical men who came before us, if we are willing to implement these values into our decisions. 

Is Corporate Support of Gay Marriage Good PR?

Gay rights is a major issue in American politics and makes its way into pop culture, personal perspectives and corporate views. In fact, Ellen Page’s coming out speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference inspired this blog post. It’s a part of our world and sometimes makes a splash in corporate communications. Many companies have stepped out to support or protest gay marriage over the years. Is this a good idea?

For a long time, the United States has focused enormous energy and attention to the issue of same sex marriage. In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. This action invalidated previous attempts to deny federal marriage benefits to same-sex married couples.

Shortly after this decision, the Queen of England granted royal assent to a same-sex marriage bill, which goes into effect in March 2014. This made England the 16th country to legalize gay marriage. Most of these countries are in Europe or the Americas and have taken this step in only the past decade.

International Right To Marry

However groundbreaking ending the DOMA was, it left many legal questions for gay couples. If the couple married in a state that allows same-sex marriage and moves to a state that doesn’t allow for same sex marriage, do their rights change? What about tax laws that don’t fall under the DOMA? Does this change affect bi-national couples? Should they receive an automatic visa if they have a US citizen for a spouse?

As a result of these questions, different lawsuits have arisen around the country about how federal law affects states’ attempts to stifle gay rights. Just before Valentine’s Day, a district court judge struck down the Virginia gay marriage ban. Other anti-gay-marriage laws are failing around the country, in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky, as many judges agree that same-sex marriage should be recognized nationwide.

Those who don’t support same-sex marriage claim that forcing states to support an action that they find immoral is “tyranny.” After the ruling in Virginia, tweets showed some similar beliefs. Opinions like these remind America that although gay rights have experienced some victories, we are still an exceptionally divided country.

So the question arises: although same-sex marriage is gaining headway in the political arena, is it safe to openly support it? That’s a tough question. Following the overturning of DOMA, many companies, such as Apple, Google, Master Card and Starbucks, came out in favor of the action. These companies might be considered more obvious choices for liberal support of social issues. However, a public statement by Johnson & Johnson was a personal shocker. A company so intimately associated with family values would not normally be expected to publicly support such an issue. After looking at their PAC contributions, they don’t solely lean left; they also support conservative representatives. It is likely that their support came from personal beliefs, rather than partisan allegiance.

Johnson & Johnson

Is this smart for a company to do, when it comes to gay marriage? Chick-fil-A is another company that considers itself family friendly. However, they are well known for speaking out against same-sex marriage. This public relations disaster arose in 2012, after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said that we were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation” by trying to redefine marriage. The same Cathy tweeted a similar comment, when DOMA was struck down, saying that the founding fathers would be ashamed of these actions. The tweet was later deleted and Chick-fil-A released a statement. However, most people know that Chick-fil-A is not a gay friendly company. As a result, Chick-fil-A has received a lot of negative backlash from gay supporters, through picketing and boycotts.

Gay rights Chick Fil A

When a Sandleman & Associates survey said that use of the company was up 2.2%, an article in USA Today attributed this phenomenon to the old saying – “any PR is good PR.”

Is this true? I personally don’t think so. If you don’t have a strong opinion, don’t say anything that would isolate yourself from either party.

If you are going to say something, I would suggest support of same-sex marriage. Supporting gay rights is an acceptance-based perspective. By disagreeing with gay marriage, it can seem like an attempt to discriminate against a group of people for their sexual orientation. By supporting their desires, a corporation can be showing them acceptance and acknowledgement, rather than detestation and distance.

Plus – honestly, at this point, anti-gay protesters are fighting a losing battle. Although the nation is divided, the majority is in support of gay marriage. Don’t fight from a losing position. Be on the winning team or stay neutral.

Sidenote: No harm intended to Chick-fil-A. I eat there all the time and I have nothing against the company.

#SochiProblems? More like a Sochi Disaster…

Before the Olympics began, we were already worried about the host city, Sochi, Russia. First, reports of the anti-gay laws led to concerns of Olympic interference. Would it affect guests of the games? Should gay athletes boycott? After that uproar quieted, rumors of terrorist threats leaked out and again the world worried about the fate of the Sochi Olympics. At this point, I thought it impossible to hear more bad news before the games began. However, a week before the opening ceremonies, Twitter blew up with photos and reports of living conditions in Sochi. Tweets featuring #SochiProblems were making their way around the world with photos depicting a city not prepared for thousands of tourists. Now, only two weeks later, @SochiProblems has nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter. Although the actual competitions have gone fairly well, these initial snafus might be more memorable than the medals won. It makes one wonder, “Was it a PR mistake to bring the Olympics to Sochi?

Major sports tournaments, like the World Cup and the Olympics, are an opportunity to bring international attention to a country. For each Olympics, countries bid for the opportunity to host the games. The battle for this honor is very competitive because many countries recognize how much money they can bring in with tourism during the games. However, for smaller and sometimes overlooked countries it is also an opportunity to say, “Hi guys! I do still exist.”

I believe this is the case for Sochi. As a typical American young woman, I don’t view Russia with warm and fuzzy feelings. Here’s what comes to mind when I think of Russia:

  1. Vodka: Did you know that “one in five men die from alcohol related causes”?
  2. Ice-cold, ass-freezing snow: It’s really cold there. Really really cold.
  3. The Cold War: I just imagine KGB spies with thick accents plotting against America.
  4. Speaking of Russian accents… They may not actually hate all Americans but their accents scare me so badly that I am convinced that they do.
  5. Great Russian Literature and Cinema: These beautiful stories like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago paint a cruel world that lovers must overcome. The setting is usually really snowy and in the middle of a government crisis.

By bringing the Olympics to Sochi, I believe that the Russian government was aiming to bring out international excitement for its country. If the rest of the world is anything like me, then it’s going to be a big leap because I am genuinely afraid of Russia. However, the Russian government hasn’t just begun with the Olympics. They have been taking steps toward image recovery for quite some time and they are doing pretty well.

Russian President Putin is known for his attempts to bring Russia back into the international arena. His actions have definitely not been overlooked. With Syrian issues and the Edward Snowden crisis, Americans especially have noticed him flexing his political muscles. In fact, he was named Forbes #1 Most Powerful Person of 2013. He has made moves to claim power for his country, and as they rise to power he has also worked to create positive public relations for the country. Therefore, hosting the Winter Olympics was a major boost to his plan to launch Russia into success.

After winning the bid, the Russian government took to preparing Sochi for the mass influx of people. The estimated $50 billion spent makes this the most expensive Olympic games in history. Sochi went from a nearly third world country to an Olympic destination.

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This is a before and after photo of Sochi,
taken from Business Insider.

In the process millions were spent, but the final product was far from what was expected by Western reporters. Weeks before the games, as journalists began arriving, the world got a taste of what to expect at the games. Pictures of yellowed tap water and incomplete portions of construction in hotels covered social media.

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These photos were endless and unbelievable to Americans, who expect better of some of our lowest quality hotels. It immediately shattered any illusion of the up-and-coming world power that Russia claims to be. The hashtag, #SochiProblems, became so popular that it was all that we were seeing of the country. This great public relations opportunity had proven to be possibly the biggest waste of $50 billion in the world.

In response to our tweets, there was talk of #SochiProblems pointing out a bigger problem in the west. Some Russians say that western delight in the issues facing Russia was unacceptable and insensitive. They said that this “malicious glee” poked fun of the daily lifestyle of many Russians.

Regardless if it seemed like it’s just westerners making cruel jokes, #SochiProblems has highlighted the real problems in Russia. It emphasized how disturbing and chaotic the building process was. One article explained that many of the problems came from poor working conditions. Many Russians would work and when they didn’t receive a paycheck they would understandably desert the project. However, new unemployed workers were just waiting to take their place. With a constant shift of untrained workers, many of the projects were poorly directed and the final product was incomplete.

So, the question arises. Was it enough to just bring attention to Russia? Will it improve their international standing, by being in the public eye? Or, have social problems in Sochi reiterated the country as a distant location that’s cold, unpleasant and inhospitable to strangers?

It’s a question that doesn’t exactly have an answer. Was it bad for the country? Probably not. Far worse disasters have overcome Olympic games in the past. Was it a good decision? Not necessarily. It has left a considerable amount of debt and many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a Russian vacation. However, it may have created some nationalistic pride within the country and generated further support for Putin. All in all? It’s a toss up. We will just have to wait and see how it pans out for the country.

Ungodly Costs of Advertising Should Be Cut (or Be Repurposed for a Worthy Cause): A Super Bowl Ad Critique

In line with the rest of America, this week’s blog is obviously going to rant about something relating to the biggest event in my house; the Super Bowl. My dad, a father to three girls, takes every opportunity to tout his masculinity to the “nth” degree. So, when February comes around, he buys 30 pounds of beef for a barbecue and invites his friends over for a day of eating and yelling at the television screen. I refuse to take part in the event, but I did cave this year for my beloved Bruno at half time. Normally, I won’t even watch the commercials.

This year, I was lucky because most of the commercials made it online before the game, and the best Super Bowl commercial wasn’t even aired during the game. If you haven’t taken the time to watch the Newcastle Brown Ale commercial, stop reading right now and go check it out!

Now that we’re all on the same page, we can all agree that the Newcastle strategy was entertainingly clever. They picked a very trendy but relatable actress, who’s known for her quirky, quips in interviews. If you’ve ever seen her in an interview, you might feel like she helped them write this script. Plus, the closing shot of the beer is just enough irony to really make the commercial perfect.

It’s funny that the Super Bowl has become more about the advertisements than anything else. Companies invest oodles of our moola into convincing us to spend more money. For this exact reason, Newcastle designed their entire advertising strategy around this ridiculous reality. Before the brand released the hilarious ad staring Kendrick, they shared a few other tidbits of comic genius such as a “Teaser for Newcastle’s Mega huge football Game Ad,” videos with a mock focus group and a few other ingenious videos. To harp on their parody, one video even says, “Get ready for some marketing!”

To further exploit the cheap advertising alternative, Newcastle jumped on the other “free” marketing bandwagon – social media. Three days before the Super Bowl, Kendrick tweeted, “Newcastle paid me to tweet about an ad they didn’t make. It’s a weird time people.” With the video attached, the tweet went viral – totaling nearly 3,000 retweets to date.

Although I think Newcastle was the reigning champ this year, they weren’t the only ones to create an inexpensive marketing campaign that caught millions of eyes. Other companies, such as J.C. Penney and Esurance, jumped into this low budget forum for capitalizing on the Super Bowl traffic. With nearly 25 million tweets in the four-hour time period of the game, many brands were able to reach out to their followers with creative social media strategies. It seems that young people enjoy this interaction just as much as the multi-million dollar advertisements. Personally, I find it much MORE entertaining and I respect the corporate thriftiness.

I think this trend is going to start popping up more and more in the future. I’ve seen this creative alternative to traditional ads in other avenues. For example, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty advertising budget facilitated a very cool opportunity for Indie Filmmaker Casey Neistat. Twentieth Century Fox offered him $25,000 to produce a promo video with the mantra “live your dreams.” With this massive ad budget, Neistat spent the money to provide supplies and meals to thousands of Filipino typhoon victims. His team recorded the effort and created a touching video. This alternative option to advertising reminded me of how incredibly large the budgets are for marketing and how it can be used otherwise. It still effectively marketed the movie, but it made the viewer believe in something good again. It’s this creativity that I hope to see in the future because, honestly, there’s just no need to spend $4 million to produce a 30-second advertisement.

Perfect in her Imperfections: Why the Whole World Loves Jennifer Lawrence

On television, Jennifer Lawrence manages to cuss, flip off her co-stars and talk about her spitting on people, and yet the country still loves her. In fact, there is a subreddit dedicated to her, where her fans have posted their undying praise for the beautiful actress. However, her public actions seem unfiltered and sometimes even uncouth. In a world where female public figures have always been expected to act with dignity and poise, why are conservative, polite stars like Anne Hathaway hated, while the rough edges of J-Law make her irresistible?

She’s down to earth. Although many people think that she is better than imaginable, the truth is she is actually incredibly relatable. We can see real people in Jennifer. I see my imaginary best friend’s awesome older sister, who comes home from college and everything she says is a little jewel of wisdom. She’s fun, she’s confident and she’s happy to laugh at herself. Jennifer is the girl that you look up to, rather than the girl that you envy because she’s so untouchable. When one reporter asked Jennifer how the Hunger Games: Catching Fire premier was going, she replied, “Good! I just found two mentos in my pocket.” She didn’t take this opportunity to relate the starving children of Africa to the citizens of District 12. No, she said something that grounded her, so that her fans would say, “Haha! She’s just like me.”

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The many hilarious faces of Jennifer Lawrence to remind us that she’s totally normal.

She isn’t afraid to be herself. Many actresses seem to be constantly spouting off an acceptance speech. They don’t seem like real people. Instead, they feel like Barbie’s who are overly nice. The natural reaction is to question who they really are and to assume that they are hiding something. There are definitely stars on the other side of the spectrum who are giving drunken speeches and flashing the media. What separates J-Law is that she seems to soberly say who she is with no fear. Her stance on body image is the most revered opinion that sways against Hollywood norms. Though she is the definition of beauty, she doesn’t fall into the anorexic look of many Hollywood stars. She’s thin, but her features are soft and her bust is full. However, when she was hired to play Katniss, some people thought that she was too overweight to play the character. She refused to lose weight, because she didn’t want to become the poster child of anorexia that every preteen girl was looking up to and saying, “If only I was that skinny.” In regards to a question about certain individuals telling Jennifer to lose weight, her response was, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet’, I’m like, ‘You can go f–k yourself.”

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Jennifer Lawrence in Elle Magazine (December 2012)

She’s humble. Amid her strength in her opinions and her ability to make jokes, Jennifer seems completely unaware of how remarkable she is. She still blushes and gets starstruck around her favorite stars. She acts super shy around famous actors and is so excited when they stop by to say hi. Even in these little endearing moments, she shines.

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Jennifer Lawrence Freaks Out when She Meets Jack Nicholson. Click Image to View Video.

Although each of these subtitles address slight differences in her personality, ultimately Jennifer is just Jennifer. We could all learn something from Ms. Lawrence. When it comes to interacting with the media, people can read write through your script and see your heart. Now, let’s not be hasty to abandon communications counsel and air your dirty laundry on television. There is definitely a balance.

Honestly, if I owned a public relations company and J-Law was my client, I might be a little worried from time to time. In a Barbara Walters interview, Lawrence said, “I don’t know what’s going to fly out my mouth.” That’s definitely not the best option for most people in the media. It somehow works for her, but most of the time it won’t work for you.

However, we can still recognize that Jennifer’s frankness is refreshing. Let public relations professionals help you figure out how to say what needs to be said, while BEING YOURSELF. Be real, don’t take yourself too seriously and always be the last to toot your own horn.

Protecting the Pedophiles to Save your Butt: Unethical and Unsustainable

Last year, when a Texas father beat his 5-year-old daughter’s rapist to death and was not charged with murder, the world quickly realized: here in Texas, we have no tolerance for sexual abuse. I’ve found that the American south is a bit more adamant than other areas of the world, but, all in all, this nation generally agrees that pedophiliac acts are disgusting and entirely unacceptable.

However, after observing the repeated incidents of pedophiliac actions covered up to protect numerous companies’ image, I have begun to doubt how deeply we despise these actions. The following three cases have been revealed in the past few years and definitely bring corporate ethics into question.

The Boy Scouts of America: In 2012, files were uncovered that revealed 20 years of sexual abuse gone unreported. The Boy Scouts keep detailed records of the goings-on within the organization. When scout leaders were acknowledged as sex offenders, the organization would remove them from their troop and keep them from re-entering the Boy Scouts. However, these actions never included police involvement and didn’t aim to protect the abused child. Although these records date from 1965-1985, the organization kept the details private until a judge ordered their release two years ago. The result has been a steep decline in public respect and trust for a previously revered organization.

Pennsylvania State University: Penn State has been the focus of a major scandal for the past two years, involving a senior level sexual abuse cover-up. Former Football Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky worked for PSU for 30 years and founded Second Mile, a nonprofit for underprivileged children. With his connections, Second Mile held youth sports camps on Penn State campus. However, it was later revealed that Sandusky had been molesting the kids in his program. When Penn State officials discovered multiple incidents of molestation, they stopped allowing the camps to happen on Penn State property, but they never took the issue to the police or investigated the welfare of the victims. Once the scandal went public, multiple former Second Mile participants stepped forward with details of sexual abuse. Many victims sued both Sandusky and Penn State. Second Mile filed bankruptcy and Sandusky was sentenced to life in prison.

The Catholic Church: The Vatican has long been the center of attention for its sex abuse scandal. The entity has protected priests accused of indecency by shuffling them around from parish to parish, when any allegations arise. The truth began to leak out, as numerous men stepped forward to bring charges against their attackers. As a result, the public became aware of the trend that allowed repeated offenses from the same priests. The scandal has become a source of stress for the church and a discomfort for Catholic families around the world.

We wince in disgust for the cases we see on TV, but when it comes to our companies, we are willing to protect an image rather than a child. It has led me to a terrifying question.

Why are companies willing to abandon their ethical standing (on a generally unacceptable action) to protect themselves?

The simple answer is for immediate protection. To avoid the public eye and find the quickest fix, organizations are willing to stomach the most despicable of actions, with the hopes that no one will discover the truth.

The unfortunate reality of this world is that, ultimately, the dirtiest secrets are hung on the line for all to see. The public will discover every misstep and will judge twice as harshly. For this reason, public relations practitioners usually encourage honesty and apology. They help a company recognize that the truth may not set you free, but at least it’s not a lie.

In fact, the PRSA code of ethics holds honesty as one of its six professional values. Additionally, PRSA reminds its members that although they should be loyal to their clients, their primary obligation is to serve the general public. Public relations professionals of these companies were either not alerted or completely overlooked the public.

In these examples, the scariest part is their complete desertion of a conscience that considers the wellbeing of the child. All of these mentioned organizations strive to provide services to improve the quality of the lives of children. However, they have proven that their interests lie elsewhere.

By protecting the abuser and ignoring the abused, these corporations invalidate their mission statements. The Boy Scouts of America’s mission statement is a prime example of this unfortunate paradox.

“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes…” 

The mission statement should guide the actions of an organization. When a mission statement obviously values ethics, then the decisions should follow those boundaries. However, it evidently doesn’t usually work that way. Many companies fail to act ethically and eventually take the fall.

Simply put, hiding unethical actions might seem like the most efficient way to contain a crisis in the moment, but deceit isn’t sustainable. One day, someone will bring the evil to light and the perpetrator will pay. (As a do-gooder, I personally find this very comforting.)

Despite their initial mistakes, the aforementioned companies have gone back to make their wrongs right. In the months following these scandals, the organizations took steps to create a safer environment for children and eradicate any sexual abuse.

Nevertheless, the general consensus from the public has been that it’s just a little too late and I would agree. Distrust and distaste are the only logical responses for their involvement in such a disliked action.

 

I know there’s mostly porn on the Internet, but has the rest of it gone to crap, too?

Just so you know, I’ve never done well with ethics. It’s not because I’m a bad person, who thinks that we should just do whatever we want. In fact, I’ve been known to be a bit of a goody-two-shoes. However, I commonly find it simple to see both sides of a situation and reason out why each side is entitled to its opinion. I can find a logical reason to justify some of the most questionable acts. However, there is one area, that even I concede, could use some boundaries and it is the World Wide Web.

Online ethics have been a source of debate and intrigue, since the invention of the Internet.  From the beginning, individuals have questioned how best to police human interaction in a virtual landscape.  Over time, officials have instigated laws to reign over the web, but what remains are large grey areas that don’t fall into illegal bounds.

Many professionals tried to break down the black and white immediately. One 1994 issue of the American Journalism Review included a sidebar with online tips for journalists. One such tip claims that private emails written to the reporter should be considered on the record, unless there was a prior agreement.

This advice would seem obvious to most reporters today, 20 years later. With time, we’ve grown more comfortable in these areas, but in the meantime more questions have arisen.

Should journalists or public relations professionals incorporate social media into their writing? Should they take social media at its word and assume that quotes posted on a wall originated from the user? If so, is their name correct? Is there a certain way to grant attribution? These are basic questions when considering how easy it is to snag a quote from a social media site and they barely skim the surface.

With the invention of blogging, the Internet has introduced a whole new medium to spread information quickly. Bloggers get away with bypassing substantiated facts, while touting extreme ideas with no authority. Anyone can be a blogger and legally talk about whatever they would like. Nothing separates Brad Pitt and your 12-year-old brother from writing a film blog. No blogger is required to provide any credibility before they begin typing away. (Says the blogger, who is only a college student.)  This has led to a mass entrance of questionable content. As a result, the public has begun to pull much of its information from unreliable sources. There is no accountability to govern the content, and surprisingly, there are few places to find information about online media ethics.

Out of this void, public relations and media professionals would devour a book on online media ethics. It might strike up entire university courses for journalism students or at least supplement journalism ethics courses.

After doing some research, I found that this idea has been somewhat explored.  Cecilia Friend and Jane Singer released a book in 2007, called Online Journalism Ethics. From what I saw, this book does not seem well known and has little reader potential. Disregarding its horrible cover and summary, it has grown irrelevant with time. Over half a decade old, it is hardly able to provide a comprehensive guidebook to the emerging media that grows exponentially.

Louisiana State University recognized this issue and created its own solution. Each semester, a media ethics course in its Manship School of Mass Communication requires its students to compile a pocket-sized book with useful tips and guidelines to an ethical online presence. The book covers issues ranging from transparency to photos and art to plagiarism. The manual isn’t for sale and (from what I have found) can only be requested by contacting Dean Jerry Ceppos, who teaches the course. I haven’t read it yet, but I appreciate the method they have taken to address this difficult topic. By creating the annual manual, they override the risk of outdated information.

I really appreciate their efforts to make a more ethically minded profession. With cyber-bullies and complete lies flooding the “news,” it’s nice to know that some people out there still care for the common decency of the Internet.

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The Target of a Public Relations Crisis

 

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DISCLAIMER: I am a major Target shopper. I am so addicted to shopping there that I considered job searching for a career at their corporate headquarters, for the supermarket discount. That idea lasted all of about three minutes, until I realized that its headquarters are in Minnesota. No thank you. However, I still consider myself a die-hard fan. However, even I was shaken into fear, when Target fell into a credit card fraudulence crisis this holiday season.

In the past month, Target has been the focus of a PR crisis, involving 110 million Americans. In a three-week period, Target’s computer systems were hacked and all individuals shopping during that time period were at risk for credit card fraud.

First of all, I’d like to note that in less than a month, over 100 million people shopped at Target. As one of those customers, I can tell you that many of us likely visited our neighborhood Mecca of deals and delights, more than once in that time-period. Granted, it was also the holiday season and Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, but still…

In immediate response to the attack, Target executives released statements and funded commercials to alert the public of the issue. These statements simply said that victims of fraud should contact Target directly to handle the issue. They also promised to share more information, if discovered.

In the following month, the uproar of media has died down, but many customers are afraid to visit Target stores and experience repeated difficulty with fraudulence. As a result, Target has experienced 2.5% drop in sales this quarter, compared with 2012.

It is my opinion that this drop comes from a small mistake in Target’s public relations department. Although they were quick to give the public all of the necessary information, they didn’t say what they were doing to protect customers in the future. Customers needed to be reassured that their money is safe at Target. They weren’t.

Target executives finally reached out Monday to apologize for their actions and say that it was only because they didn’t want to release incorrect or incomplete information. They also promised to invest $5 million into education about cyber-security. They also agreed to free identity theft protection to all Target customers.

These actions were needed and welcomed. However, they could have come sooner. During a season of warm and fuzzy forgiveness, Target might have been better off with apologizing before Christmas and the New Year. This mistake cost them a giant drop in sales for the last quarter and these penalties could linger into the following months. Thankfully for Target, shoppers like me still exist. We will continue to shop at Target and keep an eye on our bank statements, knowing we can always count on our favorite store.

 

Managing Illness Updates through a New Social Media Tool

When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, it took a major toll on my extended family. The matriarch of our family tree, she is my only living grandparent. With four grandparents down and only one to go, I did not handle her illness well.

My parents, grandparents and aunt at my dedication

My surrogate parent, she hid Easter eggs, bought me my first bra, organized tea parties, sewed dress up clothes and kindled my competitive nature by being a fierce Spades opponent. As close as I have been to her, I am not alone in this sentiment. My 12 cousins have slight variations of the same story. She was our playmate through childhood, our advocate through adolescence and remains our mentor as we have matured into adults.

Easter Celebration 1993 with my grandmother and two of my cousins

So, it isn’t hard to understand our heartbreak when she became terminally ill with stage three leukemia. I specifically remember the first time all 13 of her grandchildren came to the hospital on one afternoon. After everyone spoke with her individually, we all came in the room and sang “Amazing Grace.” (Side note: My singing was mostly mumbled words mixed with tears, snot and sobbing noises.) That afternoon made our communal love apparent very quickly and in the passing weeks, I began to see that the admiration for my grandmother extended past my family into the community.

On a daily basis, people crawled out of the woodwork to reach out to her. If she had allowed it, she would have had a constant stream of visitors from dawn to dusk every day. However, the chemo took the spark out of the spunky old broad. She spent most of her days in a great deal of exhaustion and pain and wasn’t able to take in the chaos and outside germs that visitors brought in. Although her friends couldn’t come to her room, she still needed constant supervision from family. So we had an ongoing schedule of shifts for the family to keep an eye on her health. It quickly became very confusing and difficult to maintain the various schedules of the numerous caregivers.

Therefore, when I recently found CaringBridge, I was amazed at the service it provides and incredibly disappointed that I hadn’t discovered it sooner. CaringBridge is a social media site that allows an ill patient create a page to update followers on their health status. Each page has a journal and a photo book to keep followers up to date and a guestbook for people to share kind notes with the ill individual. Each site can be created for public or private use, which can be especially helpful with the sensitivity of illness.

All of these qualities of the website intrigued me, but I was most excited about their supplemental application, SupportPlanner. This website allows the family to manage the various details involved with trying to support an individual in the hospital. The planner helps maintain caregiving schedules and provided meals. It can also allow for pet and childcare, as well as household chores. Juggling the responsibilities of someone who becomes incapacitated in a moment can be very challenging. This app makes this balancing act much simpler. Announcements are posted to one place, making it easier to complete every task while accepting help from the numerous involved parties.

Luckily, my grandmother overcame the cancer through chemo treatment. In remission, she is no longer bedridden in the hospital. However, her illness is likely to return in the coming years. If we are unfortunate enough to undergo this experience again, I will be utilizing this unique feature for my family.

Saying Goodbye to Facebook?

“None of my friends use it anymore…”

“Isn’t that for older people mostly?”

“I’m thinking about deleting my account, because I’m never on.”

I hear these statements about Facebook more and more frequently. High school and college students have begun abandoning Facebook and flocking to other social media sites, such as Instagram and Pinterest. But as they leave Facebook out in the cold, should they worry that these passing trends may eventually fade in to obsoleteness? And if so, will they return to Facebook or will an new site emerge as a front runner to replace Facebook?

Facebook recognizes its failing platform and is in the process of redesigning its front page. Will this help them regain strength like a phoenix rising from the ashes? Some don’t think so.

David Garcia, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said that this redesign could cause Facebook to plunge lower in ratings than before. Garcia referenced the redesign of Friendster, which was the final straw of its following.

Garcia makes the valid point that an updated design could be only detrimental to Facebook. With use already declining, Facebook will cause confusion with already rare users. Unless Facebook is able to integrate a new element that revives its following, we might be saying goodbye to the beloved site in the near future.