Category Archives: Kent State University

Laing Kennedy, Sports and Integrity

I know that for most pajama-clad citizen journalists like me it’s fashionable to be critical. You know. Scan the newspapers (dead-tree or online), blogs, online news sites and so on and then opine — generally with a negative slant. Not today. Today I am writing about Laing Kennedy who is retiring in June as Kent State’s director of athletics. And Kennedy is leaving at the top of his game, a model for someone who can succeed with a college sports program without compromising his integrity.

Tom Gaffney has an excellent article about Kennedy and his accomplishments in this morning’s Akron Beacon Journal.  Quite simply, Kennedy led a program with significant achievement when it came to athletics — and even more so with the emphasis that he placed on educational attainment.

During my years at Kent State, I only met Kennedy once. I was organizing an annual event that attracts people from the university and the community, the Bowman Breakfast. And Kennedy was the speaker. So I had some limited contact with him before, during and after the event. I was very impressed with his enthusiasm — and his dedication to the university and the Kent community.

But before that breakfast, what impressed me about Kennedy was his ability and willingness to help students  — and not just those on a sports scholarship. When I was working with students at the university’s student-run PR firm Flash Communications, many times students needed to contact Kennedy for information about a story or for a comment. He was always available. Always took their calls or returned them as quickly as possible. And he was gracious with his time and understanding of how much the student wanted to do a good job but needed some assistance.

Gee, sounds like a good teacher — and mentor. Somewhat surprisingly, many professors and college administrators (not just at Kent State but most everywhere) aren’t like that. Imagine that.

We need more people like Laing Kennedy who understand that education is basically about helping students succeed. And if you can add some winning sports teams to the mix while maintaining your  integrity — then so much the better.


College football, payouts and perception

Gee, nothing new from Barack or Michelle last night or this morning. Sarah Palin appears to be slow in getting her 2012 presidential campaign under way. So on another glorious fall morning here in Northeast Ohio, I’ll opine on college football.

Actually I was thinking about this Tuesday — but clearly there were bigger fish to be fried in the blogging skillet. I read in the Beacon Journal that Phillip Fulmer, the longtime coach at Tennessee, was forced to quit after this season, despite a 150-51 career record there. Kent State should be so lucky. I digress.

Tennessee isn’t doing so hot this year, with a record of 3 and 6. Bye bye Fulmer. And that’s the nature of big-time, mega-buck college football.

But here’s the point. according to the story which I can’t find online, Fulmer signed a new seven-year contract this past summer. And he was doing better than most professors (and even some executive-level administrators, I guess) — getting more than $2 million a season. Now, apparently less than six months after he and the university agreed to this new deal, Fulmer is retiring to the bleachers but with a $6 million contract buyout payable over the next four years.

Wow. I imagine that most of this cash comes from some kind of a booster club or similar organization. And you can be sure that Tennessee football — and similar programs at other universities — generate many times more than $6 million in even a single year in revenues and in exposure for the university.

But there is something wrong here. At a time when students throughout the country are facing higher tuition costs and fees — and with many now having a tough time borrowing money to pay for an education — this creates the wrong perception among many taxpayers, legislators and others. Public relations, in my view, involves honest, ethical communications — and the ability of decision-makers to make the correct decisions and do what’s right. My perception here is that the university — like most — puts football ahead of students. Unfair. Maybe. But hey.

This isn’t unique at Tennessee, of course. And you can’t blame Fulmer; he signed the contract. But everytime this happens — regardless of where — I question the values and motivation of those in charge. Yeah, I know. I’m swimming upstream here. Alumni, students and town folk don’t tailgate before a PR Tactics class. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

By the way, the Beacon Journal has had several articles over the past week or so about how Kent State and the University of Akron are absorbing increased health-care costs for employees. And unfortunately for Kent State, it comes at a time when the university is passing along credit card fees to students, as I understand it. Again, it’s a matter of perception as the Beacon Journal pointed out yesterday in an editoral.

I guess we can be thankful that Kent State stopped playing competitive football in the early 1970s when Don James took off for the University of Washington. Not many mega-buck buyouts for football coaches at KSU.

Roger Ailes and the magic bullet

Roger Ailes is right. It is all about likability. I was thinking about that this morning while running in the light rain. I watched the Palin-Biden debate last night. Did it change anything. Probably not. Even Sarah Palin can’t save John McCain at this point. But the debate did reinforce some beliefs I have about communications and presentations.

Here’s where Ailes comes him. Before Ailes gained notoriety as the head of Fox News, he worked with Mike Douglas in the early days of television and with Ronald Reagan in the last days of America’s greatness. He then wrote a really insightful book about public speaking and news media interviews, “You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You Are.” I used the book in one of my public relations courses at Kent State. The book is brief, well-written, inexpensive and full of practical advice. In other words, the polar opposite of most college textbooks. But I digress.

Here’s the advice Ailes gives if you are making a presentation or being interviewed by a reporter: relax, smile, start strong, end stronger and most of all — be likable. In fact, he calls likablility the magic bullet. In effect, if the audience likes you — they will forgive any technical flaws or gaffs in your presentation.

Folks, that describes Sarah Palin’s “presentation” to the American public last night. And it says volumes about how we judge and elect public officials.

Then there is Joe Biden: knowledgeable, articulate, full of facts and figures. Likable? Hmm. Probably in real life but not really in the Reality TV venue — at least not until he talked about his personal experience as a single parent, following the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident.

Then there is Sarah Palin.

She walks on stage and approaches Joe: “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” She smiles. She winks at the TV audience. She looks directly at Biden. It looks like she is having a good time. And whether she has anything of substance to say or not — she’s likable. The magic bullet.

Here’s from Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal this morning:

She killed. She had him at “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” She was the star. He was the second male lead, the good-natured best friend of the leading man. She was not petrified but peppy.

[Declarations] AP

The whole debate was about Sarah Palin. She is not a person of thought but of action. Interviews are about thinking, about reflecting, marshaling data and integrating it into an answer. Debates are more active, more propelled—they are thrust and parry. They are for campaigners. She is a campaigner. Her syntax did not hold, but her magnetism did. At one point she literally winked at the nation.

As far as Mrs. Palin was concerned, Gwen Ifill was not there, and Joe Biden was not there. Sarah and the camera were there. This was classic “talk over the heads of the media straight to the people,” and it is a long time since I’ve seen it done so well, though so transparently. There were moments when she seemed to be doing an infomercial pitch for charm in politics. But it was an effective infomercial.

OK. Noonan and Ailes will never be invited to drinks with the gang at The Huffington Post. So how about Roger Simon on Politico?

Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.

She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.

She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s.

“John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and somethin’ else to another,” she said. “Those huge tax breaks aren’t comin’ to those huge multinational corporations.”

She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like “I betcha” and “We have a heckuva opportunity to learn” and “Darn right we need tax relief.”

Biden was somber, serious and knowledgeable. And he seemed to think that debates were about facts. He had a ton of them.

Or how about Tom Shales? He’s with the inside-the-Beltway-elite-media crowd. He writes:

Sarah Palin looked as though she had prepared for her appearance at the vice presidential debate last night by studying Tina Fey’s impressions of her on “Saturday Night Live.” She twinkled and winked and piled on the perkiness, a “darn right” here and an “I’ll betcha” there.

The challenge to Fey, who is scheduled to play the Alaska governor and Republican candidate again on the next “SNL” broadcast, will be to out-Palin Palin, to make the parody more outrageous than the original.

Tina Fey is likable. See what I mean. Roger Ailes is right.

And Joe Biden has all the facts. The question is whether anyone cares?

Even on American Idol the best singer doesn’t always win.

Whose Rules? — Kent State’s Media Ethics Workshop

Had an interesting day yesterday attending a media ethics workshop at Kent State that was hosted by my former employer — and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It was one of the better workshops that I’ve attended in years. And there is absolutely no question that Kent State’s journalism program — housed in the way-ahead-of-the-state-of-the-art Franklin Hall — is one of the best in the country.

OK. With that bit of honest promotion out of the way, here’s my take on the workshop. Journalists are finally starting to get it. The revolution involving the news media, to paraphrase Jay Rosen, is over. Freedom of the press now belongs equally to amateurs and professionals. And we are going to have to figure out a way to make this work in the best interests of our country — and our democracy.

The professionals for the most part missed that train when it left the station a few years ago. But now they appear to be jumping on-board. At least from what we heard during the various sessions yesterday.

But I think Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, overall had the most insightful and inspiring comments. Understandable perhaps since he was the luncheon keynote speaker. And he took the time to post his remarks on his blog, PressThink. It’s worth the time to read his post, “If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn’t. So Let’s Get a Clue.”

Rosen makes the point that we now have closed and open editorial systems — which are different. He writes:

They don’t work the same way, or produce the same goods. One does not replace the other. They are not enemies either. Ideas that work in one—and describe the world in that system—do not work in understanding the other: they misdescribe the world.

He said that in a closed system, the barrier for a writer is getting published. In an open system, the barrier for a writer is getting picked up. My problem exactly. I digress.

My view is that many professional journalists are still uncomfortable with this “open system” idea. But it’s reality.  As Rosen says, ” ‘Press tools’ once owned by media companies and operated by professional journalists are now firmly in the hands of anyone who wants them.”

Particularly important, at least it seems to me, are Rosen’s views about citizen journalism. From his blog post:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, we call that “citizen journalism.”

Citizen journalism is most likely to thrive on an “open” platform.

That’s what “blogging” is: an early and awkward name for open platform publishing, in which anyone can participate.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, said A.J. Liebling. Well, blogging means anyone can own one. Therefore freedom of the press belongs equally to the amateur and the pro. So does journalism itself.

If anyone can that does not mean that everyone will. It means, “anyone who has time and reason can freely participate.”

Closed and open editorial systems, press and press sphere, are not separate things but richly interactive with one another in the news and information marketplace.

Some other of my observations:

  • Susan Goldberg, editor of The Plain Dealer, is impressive. This was the first time I had the opportunity to meet her or listen to her comments. She talked about the conflict between being first to disclose information — and the need to be right. “I don’t want us to be wrong,” she said. “Big mistakes hurt people and companies. It undercuts credibility.” The Plain Dealer prematurely disclosed the death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. “I regret going with the Representative Tubbs Jones story,” Goldberg said. Something tells me The Plain Dealer is in good hands these days.
  • I still get the sense that print journalists beleive they are working for two different businesses: one involving dead trees and one involving the blogosphere. Wouldn’t it make sense these days to view them as the same business — and allocate resources to produce the best product possible in print and online?
  • Lauren Rich Fine, former media analyst at Merrill-Lynch and now professional in residence at Kent State, asked why the mainstream media are afraid to make a mistake — given the self-correcting nature of the online media these days. Jon Talton, a journalist who writes the “On the Economy” column for the Seattle Times had a good answer: “We grew a generation of risk-adverse news managers.” He said this is one reason why the traditional media were late to go online.
  • The Poynter Institute, a “school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders,” partnered with Kent State to hold the ethics workshop as it has for the past several years. Kelly McBride, Poynter’s ethics group leader, moderated several of the sessions and added to the discussions. “Can’t tell any more who is a journalist,” she said. “But we can tell what is journalism.” Not sure about that, personally. But Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada and former Knight Ridder executive, said that the role of journalists is to verify, to authenticate. “Ain’t news if it isn’t verified,” he said.
  • And then there is Bob Steele, who loomed over the workshop — literally — with his image from his office at DePauw University prominently displayed on the room’s big screen. Steele led The Poynter Institute’s ethics program for 13 years — and he has this pretty much down by now. At the end of each of the morning sessions he hurled some digital thunderbolts from the mountain top. Here’s one. “We’re fighting for the credibility of journalism,” he said.

Lots more I could add here. But overall, an exceptional workshop on an extremely important and timely topic.

And kudos to Jan Leach, my friend and former faculty colleague, who pulls this workshop together every year. She’s the former editor of the Akron Beacon Journal — and the students are fortunate at Kent State to have her as part of the faculty.

PRKent moves “inside-the-Beltway”

Stick with me for a minute with the title. It will work. But first — I was thinking while running this morning that I really want to start writing more about education and some of the other issues I’m working on now with Corporate Voices for Working Families in Washington. Yet I’m still fried about the pathetic media coverage involving Sarah Palin and her daughter.

OK. I’m going to get over it. And I’m not even planning to vote for her. But the news coverage these past few days says something about the significant changes that have reshaped journalism in the country. It also says something about the “inside-the-Beltway” mentality that really does exist. And not just from the standpoint of the news media. But how legislators and advocacy people (of which I’m one) and groups work to shape public policy.

I’m not convinced that those who spend all their lives living and working inside-the -Beltway really are in step with what’s going on throughout this country. I felt that way when I first started working with government relations people and organizations in Washington in the early 1980s. I feel the same way today.

Here’s an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal (online) this morning, “The Beltway Boys.”  The quick take:

Even as the Obama camp ponders how best to handle John McCain’s veep pick of Sarah Palin, the high priests and priestesses of the media have marked her as an apostate. The Beltway class is in full-throated rebellion against a nondomesticated conservative who might pose a threat to their coronation of Barack Obama and the return of Camelot-on-the-Potomac.

OK. I’m over it. And now I get to try to make the headline work.

Next week I’m going to be in Washington for the Corporate Voices’ annual meeting and for an event we are hosting to honor members of Congress for their support of legislation and polices that help to improve the lives of working families. I’ll share some of the information and talks from the meeting — which features experts in education, public policy and legislation and corporate social responsibility.

But what I am really looking forward to is the addition of Allison Tomei to the staff of Corporate Voices for Working Families. Allison is a recent PRKent grad — and she will be coordinating communications and government relations. One of her first duties. Possibly helping to manage the national news media if Joe Biden shows up for breakfast next week.

Allison’s relocating to Washington from her home in Pittsburgh. That’s good. It extends the reach of PR Kent “inside-the-Beltway.” It also extends the reach of the Steeler Nation.

Hey, we have to do everything we can to get this country back on track.

PRKent wins Do It Now competition

Well, here’s one of those really good stories. PRKent bested all of the competing colleges and universities in Ohio to win the Do It Now challenge. Not surprising given the enthusiasm and the talents of the Kent public relations students involved. (Hey, I’m not teaching anymore, but I can still be proud of their accomplishments. Can’t I?) And a tremendous amount of credit goes to Michele Ewing who managed the team as an independent study project — but who really has a great talent for getting students to succeed in the classroom and in these kind of real-world projects.

Since it’s the holiday weekend, I’m going to take the easy road here and just copy the news release distributed by the Kent State’s department of University Communications and Marketing.

Kent State Students Win Statewide Do It Now Organ Donation Promotion Competition (5/22/08)

Kent State public relations students won the statewide “Do It Now” College Competition, which was aimed at increasing the number of organ and tissue donors in the Ohio Organ Donor Registry.

Funded by the Second Chance Trust Fund, Donate Life Ohio, its affiliated organ procurement organizations and tissue and eye recovery agencies, partnered with the colleges throughout the state to significantly increase the number of registered organ and tissue donors.

For the past eight months, teams from 13 Ohio colleges and universities involved in the “Do It Now” College Competition have rallied to increase the number of organ donors, all in hope of decreasing the wait list for organ donation. As part of the statewide initiative, each group had a specific target for the number of new registrants they were expected to sign up in their communities based on population and opportunity within their respective regions.

The Kent State team is projected to have added more than 12,500 new organ and tissue donors to the Ohio Donor Registry. The overall competition added approximately 125,000 individuals to the Ohio Organ Donor Registry. Kent State’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter will be awarded $5,000 for winning the competition.

The Kent State team implemented a recruitment plan comprised of a range of strategies including word-of-mouth communications, social media and donor registration event drives. The students also organized a flash mob, featuring more than 60 people freezing in place on campus for five minutes, to draw attention to the organ and tissue donation cause.

Other schools who participated in the “Do It Now” College Campaign include Bowling Green State University, Capital University, Ohio University, Miami University, Sinclair Community College, The Ohio State University, the University of Akron, the University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, the University of Toledo, Xavier University and Youngstown State University.

Individuals wanting to register to be an organ or tissue donor can continue to do so online at , by filling out a donor registration form, or by visiting their local Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Truthfully, not having the opportunity to be associated with such a talented group of young professionals is something I’ll miss come fall. But right now I better heat up the grill.

Public relations and the holiday weekend

Heading into the holiday weekend, here’s a few random thoughts I had while running this morning. Linda Douglass, a retired news staffer with ABC and CBS, is joining Barack Obama’s campaign as a senior advisor and spokesperson. And I guess those of us looking for an honest, open discussion of issues should be encouraged.

Here’s from a story on TVNewser by Gail Shister about the appointment:

“Like  a broken Maytag washer, retired ABC correspondent Linda Douglass will skip the spin cycle.

“As new senior advisor for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, ‘”My intention is that I won’t spin,'” she says. ‘”I absolutely vow that I will tell the truth.'”

Well, here’s hoping. I guess there is a first time for everything. And wouldn’t it be, hmm, the right thing to do? We’ll see.

And then there is a story about character and principle to share from the campaign trail. Mark McKinnon, the senior advertising strategist for the McCain campaign, followed through on a vow he made previously to leave the campaign rather than working against the election of Barack Obama. That’s not a critique of either McCain or Obama on my part. It’s just that when someone in a senior position anywhere actually does what he says he is going to do it is cause for celebration. Maybe this presidential campaign will be about issues, discussed openly and candidly.

Then there is PR Strategist, the flagship of PRSA’s communication fleet. In March we held at Kent State a professional development conference around social media and Packaging the Presidency — Online. Exciting, innovative conference. The story in PR Strategist: ho-hum.

With all the new approaches to communicating out there, isn’t there a way for a professional organization to do something beyond the typical question-and-answer format?

Mr X: Blah, blah, blah.

Mr Y: Blah, blah, blah.

Oh, well. In a world of change, PRSA remains a constant.

I thought about this when I saw a presentation posted on SlideShare by Sacha Chua.

Sacha describes herself as a social intranet consultant and geek. And as best I can tell, her day job is with IBM. That in itself is encouraging.

Yet something tells me that Sacha and others like her won’t be spending much time with publications like PR Strategist in the years ahead. That, in my view, is a good thing.

And they are sure going to change the workplace and political campaigns. Good.