Responding to Kennedy

While touring the Newseum’s “Assassination of JFK and Kennedy Family History” exhibit, I observed the former president’s legacy from a journalistic perspective. The exhibit featured recollections from historians, journalists, newspaper headlines and photographs from the Kennedy era.

I was most affected by the telegraph released following Kennedy’s assassination that confirmed his untimely death. Although it was before my lifetime, the artifact evoked a raw sadness in me.  In my future public relations career, would I ever have to send something out that is so difficult to write?

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be a reporter at this time. What was the ethical line between informing the public of how the president was murdered while respecting the privacy of the mourning family, I wondered. I concluded that a public relation representative’s tactical decisions span much further than editing.

Student Kristin Van Trieste examines the Kennedy exhibit.  Photo by Jamie Geller

Student Kristin Van Trieste examines the Kennedy exhibit.
Photo by Jamie Geller

50 Years of Grey

CBS Evening News Correspondent Walter Cronkite left America with a resonating thought the night of the assassination.

“In the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts…maybe it may yet be possible to say that JFK did not die in vain,” Cronkite said.

Portrait of President John F. Kennedy that was painted after his assassination  Photo by Jamie Geller

Portrait of President John F. Kennedy that was painted after his assassination.
Photo by Jamie Geller

For public relations specialists, theoretical knowledge is not always the right answer; question of decorum cannot always be answered with AP style. Notably, this quote was from Nov. 25, 1963. Half a decade later, a grey area remains in how journalists responded to the assassination. Somehow, Cronkite found a positive message in the madness.

This trip taught me that in the future, the hybrid of skill and sensitivity might be the most valuable tool in my career. When there is no clear answer, is there a balance where public relations can remain honest, reflective and sensitive to its audience?

Let me know what you think!  Comment below or tweet to me @jamiegell

Check out the rest of my Newseum photos from the trip here.

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The sixth annual Grunig Lecture featured keynote speaker Dave Senay, President and CEO of FleishmanHillard, who spoke about “Ethics as Culture” in current public relations affairs.

It was a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Senay explained, how the notions of what is right and wrong are universally believed. Using the Grunig model as his base, Senay explained a high moral standard and well-formed ethics are what lead us forward to success.

“Ethical behavior is the foundation to building trust,” Senay said.

Dave Senay presents "Ethics as Culture" at the Sixth Annual Grunig Lecture  Source: Flickr

Dave Senay presents “Ethics as Culture” at the Sixth Annual Grunig Lecture
Source: http://www.Flickr.com

Ethics in Practice

Senay highlighted examples of public relations mishaps recently that involved overseas embezzlement, lying and other unethical practices. The consequences for these actions often cost the companies financially, but even more costly, the value of their reputation. While the specific rules that these companies broke were in respect to their own regulations, the overall concepts of cheating and lying were wrong.

“We can never create enough rules to cover every situation, but we can create a set of reasonable principles people can apply,” Senay said.

The Power of “Public” Within Relations

Senay explained that a company’s or individual’s practitioner that the public did not trust would not last. He said the best way to maintain the wellbeing of a company in both productivity and in relations to the public is to adhere to universal accepted practices. In the modern global business model, regulatory standards may differ, however, there is an overlying sense of right and wrong that must be applied.

“No company can exist without the permission of its publics,” Senay said.

Senay cautioned the audience with was that unyielding practice of ethical behavior is key to drive the public relations as an ethical profession to its heights.

“We need to forcefully enforce these principles or our ethics will erode away,” Senay said.

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