Monday, February 10, 2014


Public relations, advertising,  and promotion are all admirable professions.   But our democracy is not dependent upon PR or advertising.   It does require journalism.  A free and vigorous press is essential.

Journalism is different than PR or advertising.   Journalism requires verification.   

Last week, we witnessed that the Washington Press Corps has forgotten how to do that.   After the Congressional Budget Office put out its report on the impact of the Affordable Care Act, news organization after news organization had to update their initial stories with major rewrites and corrections.   

Journalism requires accountability.   

When the head of the House Committee on Intelligence says Edward Snowden had help from the Russians, a journalist doesn't just accept that.   The journalist asks for evidence. What proof do you have?   What evidence do you have?   What facts do you have to substantiate the claim you just made?  Journalists hold people accountable.  If you're not doing accountability journalism, it's NOT journalism.    We've all witnessed what happens when journalists fail.   We had a war in Iraq because rather than asking for evidence, rather than questioning the Bush Administration, the bulk of the press played cheerleader.

Today's multimedia journalists have to develop multiple skills, but all the technology is worthless if the journalism isn't solid.   For our democracy, it's essential that we train professional journalists. 

A key and crucial training ground for university student journalists where they should be learning, refining and applying their professional abilities is student media.   Are they learning to be journalists or is student media simply a promotional mouthpiece for the university?  Are advisors encouraging students to do what journalists are supposed to do, or are advisors, particularly tenure-track professors, afraid to rock the boat?   Keep in mind, journalism is not about rocking the boat.   Journalism is about turning the boat over and shaking it so the public can see what's happening.  

Is your university actually committed to having first-rate student media?

Here are some basic quality control questions to ask:

1.  Are the student journalists aggressive?   

2.  Are student journalists questioning school administrators and holding them accountable?

3.  Is student media independent or controlled by the administration?

4.  Does the university abide by or consistently violate public records law? 

5.  Are university administrators available for on-the-record, and increasingly, on-camera interviews? 

6.  Are student journalists breaking stories that other media outlets have to cover?

7.  Are faculty advisors encouraging student journalists to be aggressive and to ask questions of their university officials and hold them accountable?

8.  Does the university reward or punish investigative reporting?

9.  How many full scholarships does the university give to journalism students - as many as they give to the golf team?

10.  In this age of ever-changing technology, does student media have sufficient technical support and expertise?

A university that wants a first-rate journalism program wants first-rate student media.    
What's the status of student media at your university?   Post below or send me an email.  



  1. There's a lot of good in this post. I do feel compelled to add a clarification. Broad brush statements about PR not requiring verification and accountability reveal an ignorance of the discipline - when it is taught responsibly and practiced responsibly. Verification and accountability are key principles that lead to not only responsible public relations - but successful PR ... and journalism, too.

    1. Superb point, and I apologize for not writing with more precision. I had the great pleasure of studying public relations under Scott Cutlip.

  2. Finding your blog has been a blessing to me. In Nigeria, investigative journalism by student media is plummeting. It's as feeble as a frail man.

    1. Investigative reporting is a challenge everywhere and requires dedication not only by the journalist but also by management. Good luck!


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