Archive for March 2012

St. Pat’s in Chicago

March 17, 2012

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

March 3, 2012

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

March 1, 2012

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.