Before leaving two weeks ago on vacation, I was tagged by Ryan Cleary, who wanted me to reveal the names of my clients the insinuation being that my opinion is for sale.
Randy Simms then read Cleary's challenge on VOCM Open Line, as if that show set the benchmark for declared motivations (more on this shortly).
Let's get this out of the way off the top. My list of clients is no big secret. Media relations is part of what I do, and I often send news releases to reporters and editors on my clients' behalf.
I don't think it's fair to my clients to single them out, but I have done substantial work in oil and gas, mining, technology, beer and spirits, health care, building contractors, and more.
And here's the kicker: I am beholden to none of them. I have learned a lot from these clients, just as a reporter learns more about a sector when they work a specific beat, but I have my own opinions. And those opinions are not for sale.
I addressed this point back in March of this year, when I wrote the following in a blog entry:
"I am a big fan of disclosure so, for those who don't know me, it is no secret that I do a fair bit of consulting work for the oil and gas industry. That said, I am not a mouthpiece for the industry. I am at a point in my career where clients pay for my ideas and advice, and respect my counsel. They do not expect me to shill for them. My opinions are honestly held and based on a career that includes 12 years of journalism and 15 years in communications, working with technology, mining and oil and gas companies, as well as public sector and not-for-profit clients."
In this world, there are two types of people: those who are for sale, and those who aren't. I cannot speak for Ryan Cleary his Astraeus article speaks for itself but my integrity and reputation cannot be purchased.
During my career as a journalist, I resigned my position on three different occasions twice as managing editor, once as reporter rather than roll over and feel compromised. I have earned the right to comment on this subject.
And I have not sold out since crossing over to the dark side' to public relations. I always advise clients to do The Right Thing and, when it comes to media relations, my role is to assist rather than obstruct reporters. On this, my record speaks for itself in the local media community.
I have done a fair bit of career mentoring in recent years, mainly through Junior Team Canada, but in other quarters as well. One piece of advice I offer young people is to never, ever allow themselves to become ethically compromised by their employer or job. If something feels wrong, simply refuse to do it even if it means resigning or being fired.
Cleary took a swipe at me because of my Astraeus blog item, which criticized him for writing an extensive article about the airline without disclosing that airline's connection to his employer, Brian Dobbin. Rather than answer the clearly-stated questions I raised in that entry, Cleary questioned my motives. He stooped to attacking the messenger, the tactic of last resort when there is no viable defence which raises the question of where he gets the moral authority to grill me on my motivations.
Here, again, are the questions I put to Cleary, which were not answered:
"Is the Astraeus charter to Deer Lake, which is vital to business at the Humber Valley Resort, not viable without more traffic out of St. John's? Did (Independent publisher) Brian Dobbin order Cleary to run this story, or did Cleary volunteer in exchange for the free travel? Why didn't Cleary disclose the Brian Dobbin connection? Did he assume the average reader would know this information? Or was it more convenient to just suppress it?"
On July 27, Cleary made a big fuss about the expression of support he received from Pam Pardy Ghent, one of his freelancers. Noticeably absent are any members of the paper's editorial staff. Have they been forbidden from speaking on this, or are they just hanging their heads in quiet embarassment?
Finally, I have a challenge for Randy Simms. He didn't mind rehashing the item that questioned my motives, yet his Open Line program is the last great bastion of anonymous personal and political attacks in the province. Callers are permitted to make all sorts of wild statements, while remaining anonymous, their motives and political affiliations completely unknown (unless they choose to disclose them).
The Telegram insists that letters to the editor be signed, and CBC Radio identifies all callers to its own call-in program. Heck, I won't even allow anonymous comments in my blog.
Open Line is extremely powerful, in terms of ratings and the influence it can have on public opinion. I challenge Randy Simms and his bosses to get with the times, and identify all callers to the program.
It is time for them to do The Right Thing.