Research -- gathering information in defining a problem -- is the first step in the public relations planning process advocated by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). However, as practiced in PR, research, sadly, can be anything but a pristine process.
We have the example of the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is included on the "Stimulus Checkup" list issued by Republican Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn. The list is known, for short, as the "100 most wasteful stimulus projects."
It's heavily footnooted. Aren't footnotes indicators of dutiful research? Item No. 11, "All Aboard The Wine Train! ($54 million)," has nine footnotes, and the overall list itself contains 420. Now that's research!
But along comes CNN reporting that the Napa Valley project really isn't for the benefit of wine-besotted tourists.
"CNN confirmed," its report states, "that not a single stimulus dollar is being spent on the wine train itself. The stimulus money is really being used for a massive flood-control project for the valley. The train's tracks happen to be in the way, so they have to be moved. It is a simple fix, but it's not cheap."
"To make it happen, $54 million is being used to build a flood wall at the wine train depot, elevate the tracks, and move them 33 feet, and raise four bridges."
Isn't it Republican dogma -- even Constitutional principle -- that property taken or altered for public purposes has to be compensated for?
When the Napa Valley flooded in 2005, the Napa Valley Register reported: "Disaster officials had no estimate on how many homes and businesses were damaged, but credited the half-finished Napa River flood control project with reducing losses in Yountville and downtown Napa."
No mention of the Wine Train was made in its lengthy story.
Melodie Hilton, the Wine Train's PR spokesperson, is aggrieved at being on the stimulus-bashing list.
"The person who did the research for the senators didn't do a thorough job," Hilton said, "and I think if they did a thorough job, we wouldn't have been on the list at all."
But Ms. Hilton, there are all those footnotes.