A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA
When on vacation in Taiwan, I always read one of the English-language newspapers to keep up with what’s going on both globally and locally.
This year, I noticed a preponderance of articles, analyses, and commentaries addressing the issue of accurate communication in today’s mega-wired, anything-can-be-reported world.
Now this is not a new issue, and I’ve written about it myself once or twice recently. But I found it interesting to see the level of concern in Asia by professional journalists. (Note: I say “professional” as opposed to our blossoming community of “citizen” journalists.)
The gist of all the conversations (in print, I hasten to add, not online) was that it has become too easy for virtually anyone to put his or her perceptions of an event or activity “out there” to then be perceived by viewers as “news” or “factual information.”
The problem with this state of affairs, as pointed out by Deputy Managing Editor Alan Fong in his analysis written for “The China Post,” is the lack of the traditional “gatekeeper” who, as I learned in my earlier years as a budding PR professional, asks the annoying but oh-so-important questions: “What are your sources for this story?” and “Have you double-checked your information?”
This fact-verifying step, while not always fault-free, continues to serve the very useful purpose of insuring that the information being communicated is as accurate…and, therefore, as reliable…as possible.
But the lines are blurring now, and information reported via Twitter and other social media platforms is becoming, for subscribers or followers or whatever the current descriptor might be, “news.” Information is streaming in from all sides, at all hours of the day and night, and it often looks credible.
This appearance of veracity doesn’t let us off the hook, though. In fact, in my opinion, it imbeds the hook even more firmly. Even more than ever, we must remind ourselves…and others…that, as communication professionals, we must ask the relevant questions before adding our voices to the chorus.
This is reinforced in the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics which advises professionals to “protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful [emphasis mine] information” and other professional communication organizations offer similar guidance.
And, to add a little historical “meat” to the argument, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, arguably one of the original “Fathers of Public Relations,” had this to say in 1906 in what has become known as his “Declaration of Principles”: “In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”
One hundred-plus years ago, public relations professionals were talking about their (our) responsibilities in communicating to and with their publics. As the proverb so accurately says: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a former member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.