Sunday, January 12, 2014

Children, it's ok to be in PR. Just be ethical.

When things go wrong in politics, things tend to go right for the media. Political corruption lead stories and exposés (local and national) can be the stuff on which journalism careers are made.

Because of this duality, it's no surprise that a well-respected (and well-followed) journalism academic and commentator, Jeff Jarvis, would chime in on the recent #bridgegate scandel in New Jersey. Quick recap: NJ Gov. Chris Christie fired a deputy chief of staff as part of some fallout over what apparently was a politically motivated George Washington Bridge toll booth and lane closure issue.

On Friday evening, Jarvis was tweeting screen captures from released government staff emails involving early reporting and a Wall Street Journal inquiry into Fort Lee toll booth topic that lead to "stonewalling." Most of his commentary was about what one would expect from a journalism associate professor.

However, one of his tweets raised the hairs on the back of my neck when he wrote: "Children, this is why you don't want to be a flack for a living."
Well thanks, Jeff. </sarcasm>

Let's just go ahead and paint the PR profession with the same damaging brushstroke because some political staffers (perhaps with questionable ethics) wrote some internal emails trying to figure out their next steps. Of course they should know by now that electronic communication within government agencies falls under FOIA rules and tend to eventually see the light of day. Duh.

What bugged me is that Jarvis picked this episode to flippantly dismiss thoughts by students of going into public relations, strategic communications or really any career in which one might be referred to as a "flack" for an organization. To be clear, I do not believe for a second that his remark will be the deciding factor for a student exploring the field of mass communications to scoff at PR. To me, it's just sad (infuriating?) reminder that our profession gets a bum rap.

It's up to us as PR professionals to practice strategic communications in an ethical manner. We should be among the chorus of calls for transparency, honesty, and open communication. I'll leave you with the charge given to us from the PRSA Code of Ethics. The Code advises PR professionals to:
  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
Perhaps even academics like Jeff Jarvis can appreciate their future hacks working with ethical flacks. (tongue-firmly-in-cheek!) Or at the very least, I hope he understands that ethical PR pros actually do exist.

Photo credit: tracylee via Flickr Creative Commons