St. Pat’s in Chicago

Posted March 17, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Accreditation, Travel

Inside a conference room in downtown Chicago today, the national Accrediting Committee unanimously recommended reaccreditation of Elon’s School of Communications.

Meanwhile, outside, thousands of revelers were decked out in green as a parade passed by in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, as the day inside wore on, I took a walking break to the Chicago River, which for more than 40 years has been dyed an Irish green on St. Pat’s Day. Here is the scene via my iPhone.

Back to the inside action. The Accrediting Committee vote was anticipated in light of the highly positive report issued last fall by a site team that spent four days at Elon on behalf of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC). The last step in the six-year renewal process will occur next month in Arlington, Virginia, when the Accrediting Council take the final action.


Public Relations Defined

Posted March 3, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Communications Today, Public Relations

Bravo to the Public Relations Society of America for updating a rumpled, 30-year-old definition of public relations.

Whether coincidental or purposeful, PRSA did it in tweet style — exactly 140 characters.

During the past year, PRSA initiated a crowdsourcing campaign and public vote that produced the following definition:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

It’s simple and straightforward and reflects the strategic nature of the communication process. This definition received 46.4 percent of the 1,447 votes to easily outdistance the other two finalists that emerged from 927 submitted definitions.

As a point of comparison, here is the previous formal definition, adopted by PRSA’s National Assembly in 1982: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

The other two finalists this year were “Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships” and “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

Whew. After failed efforts in 2003 and again in 2007, this time PRSA used a transparent, crowdsourcing approach to reach an outcome that better defines what public relations is. I like it.

How To Tell a Story, Wrongly

Posted March 1, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Books, Teaching, Writing

This week’s New York Times Book Review has an utterly disturbing cover story. It’s about a writer’s tale of 16-year-old Levi Presley who, in 2002, jumped to his death from the observation deck of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas.

The writer, though, has no allegiance to factual accuracy. Instead, he changes facts in the story to suit his artistic musings about suicide, Las Vegas and storytelling itself.

You may ask, how can the story be believable if there is no fidelity to facts? Ah, that’s what landed a most unusual book, The Lifespan of a Fact, on the cover of the Times Book Review.

Let’s start at the beginning. An English professor at the University of Iowa, John D’Agata, wrote an essay on Levi’s death for Harper’s, and it was rejected because of “factual inaccuracies.” The author then submitted a 15-page article to a literary magazine titled The Believer, and the magazine assigned an intern, Jim Fingal, to be the fact-checker.

The Lifespan of a Fact presents D’Agata’s original essay as well as what The Times calls “Fingal’s staggeringly meticulous annotations.” For instance, the first sentence of the essay refers to Vegas having 34 licensed strip clubs at the time of Levi’s death. Source material said 31. When Fingal asked D’Agata why it says 34, the writer replied, “Because the rhythm of ’34’ works better in that sentence.”

And it’s downhill from there. D’Agata changes the name of Levi’s school because he didn’t like it. He changes the color of a fleet of dog-grooming vans because he wanted the double-beat of “purple” rather than the factually accurate “pink.” He changes another suicide-by-jump that same day to a suicide-by-hanging “because I wanted Levi’s death to be the only one from falling that day. I wanted his death to be more unique.”

Fingal gamely tried at first to understand this literary license, but couldn’t shake his belief in accuracy. At one point he reminds D’Agata: “You are writing what will probably become the de facto story of what happened to Levi. Don’t you think that the gravity of the situation demands an accuracy that you’re dismissing as incidental?”

D’Agata responds that Fingal’s “nitpicking” is ruining his essay. In manipulating Levi’s story, the writer argues that he is “making a better work of art — and thus a better and truer experience for the reader.”

Uh-huh. Right. Sure.

The Global Reach of iMedia

Posted February 13, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Faculty, Interactive Media, International Communications, Travel

The most innovative feature of our M.A. in Interactive Media program is the Winter Term fly-in.

Last month, our 41 iMedia students divided into five teams that went to Iceland, Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica (two teams) to produce an interactive project for the public good.

This week, three iMedia students will appear on “North Carolina Now” on UNC-TV public television (7:30 p.m. Thursday). Lindsey Taylor, Chris Kirkham and Brandy Stearns were part of a team that went to the reserve for the Boruca indigenous group in Costa Rica and created a website to showcase the group’s culture upon their return.

Their teacher, Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill, observed, “The fly-in is a key aspect of the iMedia program because students can integrate what they’ve learned in the fall as they work together, very hard, on these projects. Going to these countries and working with these organizations is a real challenge. We learn about other cultures and ways of life, all while getting a large project completed in a small amount of time.”

iMedia students prepare for the UNC-TV interview

Senior Lecturer Randy Piland, accompanied by Assistant Professor Nicole Triche, took students to Panama for his third year, this time to work with a group that does conservation and education about sea turtles. Piland said that the students were very fortunate to be there when baby turtles hatched and made their way to the sea – something that can’t be predicted. That moment was preserved by iMedia students in a video for the group’s website designed by the team.

Further north, Assistant Professor Phillip Motley took students to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, where they traveled for several days, ending up at Campanario Biological Station, which is run by a former Peace Corps volunteer who purchased the land and developed the station for education, conservation and research. Motley’s group carried gear across rivers and through jungles to get great shots of the biological and cultural diversity that Campanario seeks to preserve. “The problems that our students are expected to solve are genuine,” Motley said. “Providing our clients with a viable solution is the ultimate measure of project and course success.”

Assistant Professors Sang Nam and Max Negin took students to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico to work with a program that provides supplementary education for children in the area. Students worked to develop a consistent brand for Academia Natanael, including designing custom logos for the group. They also incorporated a blog element into the website that lets the academy director tell the stories about his work in a way that he can easily update.

Really further north, a hardy group of iMedia students, Assistant Professor Derek Lackaff and Instructor J McMerty spent the first part of 2012 in Iceland. Lackaff’s students did a series of videos and a website redesign for the Citizen’s Foundation, which seeks to use new technologies to increase citizen participation in democratic decision-making. “Small societies are fascinating!” Lackaff said. “With only 315,000 residents in the country, we were told repeatedly that there are at most only two degrees of separation between any two Icelanders. The Mayor of Reykjavik, a Member of Parliament, and an Academy Award-nominated poet were among the friends of the nonprofit who were willing to be filmed for our project.”

iMedia students presented their work to a standing-room-only crowd in McEwen Communications Building two weeks ago, and now some of them will be on statewide television, sharing the story of Elon’s global reach through its interactive projects for the public good.

Please, Not That Phrase Again!

Posted February 11, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Writing

Certain words and phrases have their season. They catch fire, sound quite sophisticated for awhile, and then start to drive us nuts from overuse.

“Low hanging fruit” is a good example, and “Dilbert” by Scott Adams has fun with that phrase.

PR Daily publisher Mark Ragan asked his Twitter followers last week which overused phrases come to mind, and here are three more: “value-added,” “thinking outside the box” and “paradigm shift.” I’ll add “go to the next level.” Of course, in terms of overused phrases, this is only the low hanging fruit.

A Conversation with the President

Posted February 11, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Faculty, Special Guests

President Lambert welcomed the School of Communications faculty and staff to his home this week for a conversation about the future of Elon.

He started by complimenting the school, saying, “You are absolutely on fire!” The president called the school “truly extraordinary” and said that when people now think of Elon, many think of the School of Communications.

In his series of conversations about the future of Elon, the president focuses on what he sees as the headlines from The Elon Commitment strategic plan over the next 3-5 years.

He listed 10 headlines. The first is to build “a premier residential campus” because students perform better academically when they live on campus. He talked about the need for intercultural competence in its many forms, such as study abroad, foreign language instruction, religious pluralism, campus internationalization, and a doubling of need-based financial aid. His third headline was creation of a National Center for Engaged Learning.

His fourth headline especially grabbed our attention — a showcase School of Communications building. He called it “the next big thing” in terms of construction projects at the university and said it will be a premier building for a premier program.

Other headlines dealt with the Student Professional Development Center, law school, business school, athletics, a culture of philanthropy, and maintaining Elon’s “best value” position by keeping tuition increases in check. Robust Q&A followed.

We are fortunate to be at a forward-thinking university where the president wants to interact with faculty and staff about the future.

Book Covers for Different Countries

Posted January 28, 2012 by Paul Parsons
Categories: Books, International Communications

Growing up, I naively thought a book had only one cover. When I read George Orwell’s 1984 as a teenager, the cover to the right was the one on my paperback.

In time, it became apparent that different editions have different covers. But publishers also design different covers for different audiences, including those in other nations.

Following last June’s blog on the best opening lines of literature, a reader asked if I knew the designer of the cover that I had included. I didn’t, but it really wasn’t hard to discover in this age of Google images. The French edition cover is reproduced here with the designer’s name.

French edition cover design by Michel Siméon, 1966

Here also is a 1984 cover for Indonesian readers. If you’re into it, this website offers a lot of examples of book-cover designs.

An Indonesian book cover