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#PR Rant: Is Biting the Hand of Media “Good”?
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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The controversial new head of all athletics programs at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, is at it again; she got herself in hot water over some remarks made recently on campus to a journalism class.

What did Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann say that created such waves? According to a blog recently posted by PR News's Matt Schwartz, she told a journalism class “That’d be great” if the Newark NJ paper, The Star Ledger, was to go out of business. (See Matt's story here.)

And, as Schwartz so eloquently noted at the start of his piece, “Sure, we now live a digital age, but we thought the expression, “Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel” was still apt for the latest PR debacle at Rutgers University... PR pros can commence wincing.”

Apparently Hermann's comments about the Star Ledger came before the paper made an announcement that “167 people were let go, or nearly a quarter of the staff, including editorial and sales executives.” Ouc. The Star Ledger has been a major NJ print media brand for decades; it once was a voice to be reckoned with by politicians and others in the public eye who lived or worked in New Jersey.

Schwartz also commented: “The episode is the latest PR debacle involving Hermann. Before she was hired last summer as Rutgers’ athletic director Hermann was accused of bullying players as Tennessee’s women's volleyball coach, but the she was able to survive the accusations. The irony is that Hermann had been recruited to help clean up the scandal-tarred school, which was under fire for its handling of the Mike Rice scandal” of a year ago.

Is there a take-away here for PR pros and others involved with communications? Schwartz thinks there is:

The takeaway here for PR pros is that when your brand has been dealing with one scandal after another it may not be the best idea to bash the local media.

Even when you’re not dealing with so much baggage, as is Rutgers, there’s very little upside to calling for the demise of a local newspaper.

What adds insult to injury is that Hermann is kicking the Star-Ledger when it’s down, and, like many newspapers, faces an existential threat because of the Web.

It’s one thing for executives and athletic directors to have a less-than-flattering opinion about media coverage of their brands and organizations, which is fine.

But Hermann’s statement about the Star-Leger is simply bad form, and has now made the job of senior PR reps at Rutgers all the more problematic.

Is it a good idea to bite the hand that helps you with media relations and communications, even in this digital age? Schwartz thinks not, and this flack agrees.


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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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