Early Morning Debate on Ethics in Media and PR
I was in a bit of a grumpy mood early this morning because it was early morning... I was in Palo Alto to be part of a Silicon Valley Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) panel on the subject of Ethics in Media and PR. And they had misspelled my name on everything(!)
Some coffee quickly improved my mood and we got into a spirited discussion on the panel, and among the attendees. I enjoyed it and I think we covered a lot of ground.
I also enjoyed meeting my fellow panelists:
Jerry Ceppos, former Executive Editor, SJ Mercury News; currently a fellow in media ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Jon Greer, media trainer and editor, 21stCenturyMediaRelations.com
Joel Postman, EVP, Eastwick Communications
I talked about my sponsors (Intel and Tibco) and said that they support what I do and don't ask for anything in return, which leaves me free to write abut anything I please. And if I do write about them, it is tagged as sponsor watch, and people can make their own judgement about the posts. I have to admit that I like the two companies a lot because they like me, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't write a juicy story if I got one related to my sponsors.
For example, I was asked by Jerry Ceppos, if someone within Intel leaked to me that Paul Ottelini, the CEO of Intel, would soon announce his resignation, would I publish the story? Heck, YES!!! That's a killer story, I'd publish it in a Silicon Valley nanosecond.
There was some discussion about a recent Wall Street Journal article that I missed, which was about Yelp, the online recommendation site based in San Francisco. The WSJ had discovered that some of its restaurant reviewers had received free meals in return for a review. I remarked that I often see top WSJ journalists at swank San Francisco restaurants being hosted by companies that they cover, at so-called "media roundtables" and other events that I attend.
Mr Ceppos was astounded and said he didn't believe it. Nevertheless, I said, it is true. He said that wouldn't fly at the San Jose Mercury.
I go to a lot of dinners, and sometimes I write about the companies and often I don't. When I do, I often say "I was having dinner with...". It would take more than a dinner at a nice restaurant to buy coverage at the WSJ, or here on SVW.
Journalists get to choose to write about companies and people because they believe it will make for a good story--there is no money exchanged. PR people have to do it because they are paid to do it not because they want to.
I also pointed out that journalists are less influenced by money than PR people because journalists chose a profession that pays very badly.
There were some very good contributions to the discussion from our audience and there was strong support for being direct and transparent in PR corporate blogging. All good things...
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If you'd like to join in on the subject, Jon Greer set up a blog: http://digitalprsa.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/agenda-online-ethics-panel/
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