To answer Ms. Garcia’s question, yes, I am tired of it. PRSA members also are tired of it, especially those who have been personally targeted by Publisher Jack O’Dwyer, but more on that later.
The latest shotgun blast in this “feud” stems from PRSA’s decision not to extend press credentials to Mr. O’Dwyer, which would have allowed him to “report” on our Leadership Assembly meeting and International Conference, which took place Oct. 15-18, in Orlando, Fla.
To be sure, this was an unprecedented step, and one we did not take lightly. We understood that we would face criticism from those who may not understand why an organization that represents public relations professionals would take an action that seems to fly in the face of established public relations tenets.
For this reason, we explained our position in a statement, in an extended conversation with Bill McCarren, executive director of the National Press Club, and in a 23-page letter sent to Mr. O’Dwyer, which outlined our concerns with his professional conduct. (The letter was at the link provided at the time of this writing.)
One of the many concerns we outlined is that Mr. O’Dwyer interferes with the employment and educational relationships of PRSA volunteers. Imagine, if you will, that you are the president of a PRSA Chapter, and you’re summoned to a meeting with your CEO and your organization’s legal counsel and HR director, and asked to explain who Jack O’Dwyer is, and why you shouldn’t be fired for volunteering your professional skills and time to an organization that’s as “unethical” as he claims. This happens routinely. And repeatedly.
Mr. O’Dwyer also investigates personal details in the private lives of PRSA leaders, including seeking information on their personal finances and minor children; harasses college students who are part of PRSSA; and surreptitiously accesses PRSA’s proprietary information systems and conference calls without our prior knowledge or consent, of which we have proof.
If your concern is that PRSA is picking and choosing which journalists can cover its events, that would be a fair criticism. We get it.
By no conventional definition, however, is Mr. O’Dwyer a reporter. He is a publisher and a salesman and, in his behavior toward PRSA, an activist. And admission to PRSA events with reporters’ credentials is restricted to journalists only, and not handed out to just anyone claiming title to their access and privileges.
Mr. O’Dwyer is, of course, free to write whatever he wants, much of which we consider to be biased and misleading, if not outright lies.
For example, he alleged in an article that the partner of a PRSA President died of AIDS — a disease which (rightly or wrongly) carries a strong social stigma — despite having been told specifically that AIDS was not the cause of death. Is that ethical journalistic conduct? If he worked at The New York Times, would he still have a job? At News of the World … maybe.
But let me be clear: This is not an issue of attempting to stifle negative coverage of PRSA. As noted above, Mr. O’Dwyer will write what he wants, and readers will judge for themselves the veracity of his claims and the integrity of his reporting. However, when he (or any journalist) actively harasses our members, or disrupts our events, or meddles in our business relationships, or violates established media policies that all other reporters willingly follow, one cannot reasonably excuse nor defend that behavior in the interest of protecting First Amendment rights.
Mr. O’Dwyer is an activist, and he has the right to be one. But much like the author of the “Sprint Really Sucks” blog would not be invited to attend the annual meeting of Sprint shareholders, so, too, does PRSA have the right to deny access to an activist who harasses our employees, volunteers and business partners.
Some of the comments on the PRSA-NY LinkedIn Group, where a discussion on this topic was initiated, appear to recognize this. “I’m not sure how excluding Jack is any different from any organization excluding muckrakers from its gathering. I’ve worked with Fortune 10 companies for years and we routinely exclude journalists from functions up to and including not sharing information with certain properties,” said one.
Another asks what is wrong about “extending invitations to a selection of journalists but not to all?”
These folks seem to recognize that the media environment has shifted dramatically. Not everyone who claims the mantle of journalist today is prepared to carry out the responsibilities associated with that title.
It’s telling that the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) recently invited Mr. O’Dwyer to resign his membership in that organization which, like PRSA, emphasizes ethical conduct on the part of its members.
In the face of Mr. O’Dwyer’s unrelenting attacks, PRSA occasionally will stop to set the record straight. But for the most part, he’s a “feud-er” without a willing “feud-ee.”
The fact is, we moved on long ago to the real issues that matter to us and the profession, such as advocating for the business value of public relations, speaking out about ethical transgressions on the part of public relations practitioners, promoting greater ethnic and gender diversity in our profession, working with the FTC and FDA on issues of interest to public relations professionals, and pushing for greater corporate communications training in MBA programs.
If the PRNewser article is any indication, the public relations profession is likewise ready to move on. So perhaps the better question for Ms. Garcia to ask is, why isn’t Mr. O’Dwyer?
Arthur Yann, APR, is PRSA’s vice president, public relations.
**UPDATE: PRSA has closed the comments on this blog post.