Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Who Guards The Guardians?

Umass is looking for a "Director of Communications" to add to their luxurious stable of Public Relations folks, namely the Office of News & Media Relations (with a staff of 10). 

This gaggle of course does not include Nancy Buffone, Director of "University Relations," with a staff of three;  or John Kennedy, Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

UMass also has "Newswise" which seems to be just another name for News & Media Relations, although I notice former high-ranking editor at the (Springfield) Republican Larry Rivais now shows up as an "Associate News Editor" after retiring from the Republican on January 1st.

The retreat of journos into public relations jobs is certainly nothing new, but it has become worse over the past ten years or so with the decimation of traditional print media by that darn Internet.

In 1980 for instance Amherst hosted four weekly news publications, and now we're down to just one.  And that one -- The Amherst Bulletin -- had a full time staff of 13 stationed in Amherst back in 1980 (not to mention 15-20 part-timers), and now they are down to just two.

In 1980 the ratio of PR flacks to journalists was 1.2 to one, but by 2010 had climbed to an alarming 4 to one.   And they are better paid and better equipped than the beleaguered journos who try to cover their employer.

So who keeps a discerning eye and a flashlight on UMass, our flagship University and the town's #1 employer?  Hello?  Hello?  Is anyone out there?

Nancy Buffone's response regarding the "Director of Communications" position. 


Anonymous said...

It's worse than this -- the media business is very competitive right now and both reporters and outfits live or die by access.

Piss off UMass and you won't get it. You definitely won't get the sports interviews that you need.

And that is why no one really covers the stories on that campus that need to be covered. The corruption, waste and fraud stuff.

Walter Graff said...

There really isn't anywhere else for media people to go Larry. If you've been in the business 20+ years, you start to see your options for the future disappear, and these "corporate" jobs are very enticing for seasoned media people who basically hit a wall in the prime of their career.

Public relations is a catch-all and pretty much anyone with a media resume (network, large publisher/newspaper background) can jump into any stream of public relations with success. It's all about image and all media people do is create images so not hard to jump on the public relations bandwagon to create pretty pictures. Add a writing background (journalist) and you have your second career working in PR.

Journalism died some years ago. One of my journalism professors prolifically was telling journalism majors in the mid eighties to reconsider their careers. He said in 15 years all media will be owned by six or seven entities and that will mean you play by the rules or else.

He hit the nail on the head. Today journalism is following an unwritten corporate culture of what is acceptable and what is not. You never really know what is or isn't you just follow your gut based on what you see and what you think you are supposed to do. Occasionally you step over the line and are reminded of what is acceptable but if that happens you base your work even more on fear.

No one ever gives you a cheat sheet as to what is "proper", you just don't go where you think you will get in trouble. Basically you work more out of fear of what will get you in trouble than pride in finding out the truth.

Anonymous said...

I will go even farther than Walter did -- a lot of young journalists largely consider journalism (both print and electronic) to be little more than a low-paid internship as they "pay their dues" so that they can go over to PR where the real money is.

What I think will happen when this all shakes out is a return to the tabloid opinionated newspapers of the late 19th Century -- when when the "Springfield Republican" and "Foster's Daily Democrat" were unapologetically partisan -- when news was reported (accurately) for the sole purpose of legitimizing and creating an audience for the editorial page.

To the extent that Larry's blog is a media outlet, Larry has a very clear political agenda, strongly held views on some things which clearly come through.

As long as all sides are represented -- as was the case in the late 19th Century when printing costs had gotten down to where large volume newspapers were economically feasable, and which is now doing such papers in today with the cheaper electronic stuff.

As long as everyone is treated equally and we don't have "approved" journalists like we do "approved" (licensed) lawyers. THAT, Walter, is what was wrong with Deval Patrick's driving ban last February -- he exempted those journalists who earned all their money from the ban -- but not the folk like Larry.

Larry Kelley said...

At least the The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the First Amendment does not belong to approved journalists.

Walter Graff said...

Was never a fan of Deval. I drive in that storm from NYC to Mass that day passing sign after sign that said all roads closed. I had my Media ID so figured if I got stopped I'd just flash it. No one stopped me. In fact other than few cars, trucks and occasional police car, there was no one on the road.

I'm taking in your suggestion that we will go back to a late 19th Century system. Hmmm. Sort of heading that way now in terms of blatant partisanship. I see bias, racism, and bigotry on the rise and yes, what a better way to get readers and viewers than to simply say what you want and disregard the rest. But then again we have MSNBC, ABC and all the other liberal media outlets now vs Fox and Murdoch so I guess the next step is to simply stop hiding the bias and blatantly call for action for or against a stance.

As for PR today, NYC PR is basically 20 and early 30 somethings all but working for free with a few on top taking all the profit and making all the calls. Journalism is considered a stepping stone for the resume so you can move over to PR. Pretty much anyone that graduates in journalism moves over to PR these days. Neither is paying much unless you get into the upper echelon and that is pretty much impossible but scince there isn't many places to go, you hang on to whatever you can.

Most young folks who can borrow money or have rich daddy's are simply breaking off and doing the Lizzie Grubmin method of PR which is simply steal clients and do your own thing since no one is going to pay you much if it isn't your own billing. The rest live with their parents or roommates (usually work with them at the same place) cramped in an apartment to survive.

Folks ought to get the word "journalism" out of their heads as the classic definition describes it, because it hasn't been that for a long time. The new definition is a method of inquiry and literary style used in social and cultural representation. It serves the purpose of playing the role of a public service machinery in the dissemination and analysis of news and information.

No where in there is truth or integrity implied.

As for Larry, how is he any different than anyone else. He reports what he wants and has a slant towards what he believes. Last I looked Ed Schultz was still trying to convince folks that Obamacare was working, Greta Van Susteren was claiming Obama was trying to shut her down, and Rachel Maddow who talks out of the side of her mouth both figuratively and physically was trying desperately to take down Christie with no luck.

If Larry was reporting things as they happened with no slant, no one would read this blog. He creates controversy and folks fight. That's always a success in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

Walter belabors the obvious, then attaches too much significance to it.

We read Larry's blog these days in the way that we use all other sources of news: selectively and critically. The thing that Larry does that is most valuable is local reporting, something that is starting to dwindle at the traditional print sources. And he gets the news out before they do, usually.

It's laced with opinion, seen through his particular lens, but so what? He's actually somewhat more transparent about his bias than others are.

My guess is that the Gazette/Bulletin and the Republican are monitoring him fairly closely hour by hour.

We're in a different environment for news than we were 10, 20, or 50 years ago. So we have to make the adjustments as readers and consumers of news. That doesn't mean it's the end of the world or we're all going to hell.

And most importantly for the regular commenters on this blog, it's nothing to get angry about.

Anonymous said...

You know Larry, while you and I are coming at this from completely different perspectives, we are actually in agreement on this one.

Although, surprisingly, you only go halfway on it -- you who have personally pried loose more public documents from local bureaucrats than anyone else I can think of.

Yes, the other thing the media does is pry loose public information and publish it -- thus also serving as a legitimate secondary public citation for anyone who needs it -- for any reason.

For example, UMass denies that it is carting s-loads of students off to the psych ward -- and then challenges those who know otherwise to prove it. Well when you published the AFD's ambulance log, it wasn't overly difficult for anyone to count the number of times the word "psychological" appeared and add them up.

Pure (as opposed to applied) scientific research is justified on the grounds that no one knows where it may lead to or what uses others might be able to make of it. UMass Amherst became one of the world's leading polymer science hubs (and Western Massachusetts initially for plastic production) because one professor in the 1950's was interested in funky long-chained hydrocarbon molecules.

So too with pure journalism -- where the journalist is simply reporting on anything and everything that he/she/it can find -- the more interesting the better but anything to meet the deadline (and I've had press releases printed verbatim more than once).

And yes, it is the "first draft of history." It's also a public record with snippets of fact that are often incredibly valuable.

In the 19th Century, the word "Censor" meant more of what the Romans meant it to mean -- more like an auditor than morals policeman -- and Thomas Jefferson is famous for saying that "no government should be without censors and where the press is free, none ever will be.

Anonymous said...

Larry, the question of "and then who guards the guardians" comes from the initial response to Plato's Cave -- his concept of having citizens kept in darkness and only knowing that which the philosopher kings (called "guardians") wished them to know.

They were called "guardians" because they were to guard against falsehood and illogic -- they were to filter the sunlight before it reached the citizenry. They would know everything and the public would only know what they thought the public ought to know.

(Would anyone be surprised to learn that Billy Bulger is a scholar of Plato and often quotes from the Cave?)

The immediate question -- which neither Plato nor anyone else has ever answered -- is who will be guarding these guardians? After all, it's long been known that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

A competitive (cut-throat) press is an effective guardian of the guardians -- and much like the IRS doesn't particularly care why someone, a competitive press doesn't care either. Nor does it really matter if the information is of public relevance.

Remember when the athlete's grades wound up in the Boston Globe -- that was a jilted girlfriend who did that -- and while we can argue if the Globe should have published the actual grades of specifically identified athletes, the issue of Coach Cal's Criminals was absolutely newsworthy -- and as Marcus Camby would later show us, this was only the tip of the iceberg.

(I never did understand why all the folk concerned about violence-against-women never said anything about the girlfriends being thrown through dormitory walls, but I digress....)

Dr. Ed said...

UMass shut down the Minuteman Newspaper -- and I can document this if anyone cares -- because the next edition was going to contain proof of serious financial misconduct involving the "Student Bridges" program and the "Justice for Jason" fund. Mandatory student fee money was essentially being laundered and given to a private citizen who wasn't even (then) a UMass student -- this is illegal.

We had proof -- copies of documents even -- that money from the Student Activities Trust Fund (SATF) was essentially given to Jason Vassel in cash -- with the intention of helping to pay his legal expenses, but as this was unencumbered cash that went into his pocket. And that university administrators had signed off on this -- that is what they were afraid of us publishing...

SATF funds were used to purchase the "Justice for Jason" T shirts -- we even found the vendor and confirmed all of this with them. The shirts were then de-facto sold with all the proceeds going directly to Vassel -- the SATF was not reimbursed -- I call this "money laundering."

The "bloated backside" matter was really about the Student Bridges money being used as a slush fund to buy Student Government people meals at local resturaunts, which was at least questionable as the money was supposed to be used to help tutor minority children in Springfield.

I was personally working on a credible rumor that a student trustee had used SATF funds to purchase her own textbooks for her UM courses -- I'm convinced she did -- which is definitely illegal, and would have been a big scandal. And who knows what we hadn't yet found out about?

All of those stories got "spiked" when they shut down the paper -- hell, they had the police threatening to arrest reporters for merely showing up at public meetings -- and we won't get into the creative fiction of Lisa Kidwell.

And because -- well because I prevented bloodshed via Pax Ed -- instead of punching people, you will go get Ed who will deal with this (by calling the police) -- because I was the victim of a UMPD detective not doing her job, I deserved to have my life nearly destroyed.

And folks, if there was an actually aggressive and competent press in town, things would have come out and there would be UM administrators in jail right now...

And folks, there is a side of me that kinda wishes I hadn't stopped that a-hole from doing some of the things he eventually would have if I hadn't done what I did -- and there'd be dead cops right now if he had. (I have no doubt every real police officer knows exactly whom I am referring to -- and he was way more afraid of me than you.)

I tried to be a "Good Christian", I tried to do what I thought was "right" -- and the people who want to call me names can go F*** themselves.

Anonymous said...

"I tried to be a "Good Christian", I tried to do what I thought was "right" -- and the people who want to call me names can go F*** themselves."

Ah, yes. Nothing says good Christian like saying "go F*** themselves."

Dr. Ed said...

Ah, yes. Nothing says good Christian like saying "go F*** themselves."

Ummm.... "tried" is past tense...

And I'd love to know what Jesus was saying in his altercation with the money changers in the Temple.

You know Larry, even though I paid a high price for doing what was a public service, and even though he didn't deserve any of the stuff I did on his behalf, I am glad I did it. I have a pretty good idea of what would have happened if I hadn't -- it is not something that I would have wanted to see happen.

Walter Graff said...

I was thinking that the sense of a "guardian" might in itself be a misnomer. There is a presumption that those in charge will protect us. Probably a leftover from the sense that our parents will take care of us and do no harm. Perhaps that is why we are so shocked in cases where mothers kill their children. There were three of these horrible reports in just the last week, and they are about as shocking as can be. I say the notion of the guardian is a false notion because it presumes that groups like the media are designed to protect us. The reality is the media has no interest in protecting, nor in truth. And like the near constant cases of mothers who kill their children, we just can't understand the logic. Our cultural experience says it must be true and even though it isn't we hang on to old ways with hope that it will be revealed to be true. Same with the notion of male on female violence. The reality is that most spousal violence is actually female on male, but our culture has so implanted a myth in our heads that women are victims and males always the aggressors that we can't imagine it any other way.

Anonymous said...

Ed is back. There was a nice respite for a few days...perhaps he was away or had he flu..anyway, it was a nice couple of days without Ed. Oh well. The price we pay to read Larry's blog. Everything comes with a price! :)

Walter Graff said...

Organized religion... Is there any organization that needs more guardian to the guardian? The Catholic church has always done what they needed to survive and thrive and I'd say many times that had little to do with following what God would have wanted. The New Testament was a collection of stories picked from a huge library of stories about Jesus. The stories that worked for the purpose of converting Jews to a new religion were picked and many of the stories left out such as the earlier Gospels of Thomas where Jesus kills a young boy didn't quite make it for some reason. Are the stories of the bible inspired by God or is that a good catch-phrase to use so that you trust the guardians. Sort of like saying I never had sex with that intern, or no new taxes or your premiums will go down. We look at the guardians and can't make sense of the nonsense because we believe what we want to believe based on what our culture tells us is 'true'.

Dr. Ed said...


Plato proposed having "Philosopher-Kings" as "Guardians."

That's where the term comes from.

And Ed'd not leaving until either Enku Gelaye fixes the mess she helped create, or whoever replaces her does.

Give me back my reputation or I will haunt Amherst for all of eternity.

Anonymous said...

Ed, do you remember John Sendelbach, aka 'bach, the disgruntled artist who was forever embittered about his treatment at the hands of Larry Shaffer, Barry Roberts, et al.?

I've never met him, and I have no opinion about his skill as an artist, but if anyone I knew had ever considered hiring him, I would have strongly advised against their doing so. His constant rants pegged him as more trouble than he was worth, and he finally had the good sense to stop.

Keep that in mind as you wait for someone to "give me back my reputation." You may think that your comments on this blog make you some kind of gadfly or crusader, but all you're doing is continuing to erode your own reputation. At most you're a mild irritant, since one need only stop reading to put you out of sight and out of mind; nothing you say here will ever force anyone to change anything. If real change is what you're after, you'd better learn to take action in the real world.

Dr. Ed said...

Ed, do you remember John Sendelbach, aka 'bach, the disgruntled artist....

As I understand it, that was a dispute about unpaid wages. The AHA cheated me out of over three month's worth of earned wages and you haven't seen me complaining about that, have you?

Does that perhaps give a little bit of perspective?

His constant rants pegged him as more trouble than he was worth, and he finally had the good sense to stop.

In other words, he was bullied into silence. Whatever.

First, you somehow seem to think that being on good terms with the schmucks at UMass is beneficial to my career -- and the exact opposite is actually true.

And Second, my issue is that of "NEVER AGAIN" -- I don't want Planet UMass to do any of this stuff to any other student, ever.

My attitude is more like those who survived the Holocaust and not that of a disgruntled "artist" quibbling over a bill. But if you wish to use the 'Bach analogy, it would be like him attempting to prevent the town from cheating anyone else, which is not what he did.

I say I want my reputation back but it is more atonement I seek -- and don't expect to ever see. So instead I pursue vengeance and I'm working on it. Very quietly, in the shadows backstage, I'm working on it.

(It's a much bigger issue than even UMass -- I've stumbled into something that will become a national scandal when it comes out. But I digress.)

Look, I know how irritating it is to various folks for me to still even be breathing -- and hence I can find the time to type out a few blog comments as well....