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March 2, 2011
'Covering Up' Is Madness
Discussion continues in Great Britain over the news-monitoring site, Churnalism.com., that was launched there last week. Inserting a string of 15 or more characters from a news story in the British press supposedly can detect whether it's been based on an insidious press release or on enterprise reporting. Probably, it's had a bit of both; that is, PR input as well as reportorial questioning. But we're supposed to be concerned about the diminishment of journalism these days, right?

Maybe so. Yet there's a colossal canard – a sadly mistaken notion – about the very nature of public relations in all this. PR, many people feel, is for covering up or glossing over mismanagement, mistakes, or middling performance. Yet, while PR doesn't trumpet misfortune, neither should it be "covering up" anything troubling. Richard Sambrook, a former BBC news director now working at Edelman, explains why. 

"Good PR is less about spin and cover ups and more about advocacy and transparency – from which some news organizations could learn," Sambrook says on Jon Slattery's blog from London. "I'm asked by old colleagues, 'So what terrible deeds have you had to cover up then?' The truth of course is that 'covering-up' or deceit is the worst advice to offer anyone, with a high probabllity of discovery and consequent reputational damage proven time and again."

We've said it over and over – public relations is about relationships – honest, open, healthy ones. Relationships that can't be created by deceit, by covering-up misfortune. Some news organizations, Sambrook notes, have their own smudged "transparency" to consider.

If Churnalism.com helps identify what can be trusted, lets people better understand what they are reading, and makes news organizations reflect on their own (lack of) transparency, good luck to it," Sambrook concludes.

Let's just try to relate as openly and fairly as we can and avoid dealing in misbegotten stereotypes. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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