Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Not-So "Dark Side" of Journalism

Kerry Tuttle

I have strong morals. I am able to respectfully disagree with someone, whether they are my peer or my boss. I am not a “spinster” of the truth. I am also a public relations major and an aspiring PR pro. Taking classes in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University with my classmates who identify as journalists, rather than PR experts, is a wonderful experience except for when they refer to me as being on the “dark side” of journalism.

A new Baylor study found that PR professionals are not “Yes Men” when pressured to be unethical. We are just as concerned with fairly serving the public interest as we are in pleasing our organizations or clients. Although I believe in my ability to stand by my beliefs and ethical values, it gave me much comfort when the study found that most senior public relations professionals view themselves as an “independent voice” in the organization and are not swayed by its politics or perspective on things. How can we continue to fight the misconception that PR professionals are unethical marketers?

Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires

Just like Smokey the Bear says, it is better to ensure fire prevention in terms of damage control during a crisis rather than fire-fighting. PR professionals need to be viewed as an intricate part of the company’s strategic planning team which includes legal and crisis control planning as well. This starts with easier access to top management and teaching them that PR professionals can do more than just react. They can help plan, organize and control different aspects of a company.

Culture is Key

All employees of a company need to know their roles, whether he/she is the CEO or an intern. Establishing a culture that places high importance on expected ethical behavior is key. This should include opening up the communication lines between employees and having receptive top-line managers who would not be opposed to bringing a third party in to evaluate how ethical the company’s culture is. Holding others accountable in terms of setting realistic goals, understanding how you rank against the competition and not overlooking breaches of policy are some good first steps to an ethical company culture that PR professionals and fellow employees can thrive in.

So So So Scandalous
Fighting the misconception about PR professionals starts in the HR department with hiring practices. If someone has the most impressive resume in the room, but shows signs or has a history of questionable ethical values, he/she should not be offered a job. Hiring honorable people with good values is the one solution to avoiding scandals. Once the team is hired, making sure that ethical behavior and honorable values continue regardless of the state of the economy, upcoming deadlines and changes in the industry will make a PR pros job much easier because they won’t have to “spin” a scandal. They’ll simply have to strategize to get the word out about your honorable company.

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