Double Standard?

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Is a national award a valid story? It depends

Point of disclosure: I recently completed a writing project with Memorial University. I did not deal with the employee quoted here I dont think that person even knew I was involved with the project but am aware that this can be perceived as a bias. Therefore, I will not offer much here in the way of opinion. I will let my source state his or her case.

CBC Newfoundland and Labrador has been winning an impressive number of journalism awards lately, all richly deserved and worthy of congratulation. (I would have written about them, but at the time was stretched too thin with other work commitments and wasnt blogging at all.) Theres a good roundup of the awards here.

At the time, news of the award was featured prominently in newscasts for both CBC Radio and TV. And fair enough.

However, someone else had a different take on it. I was contacted last week by one of the 50-or-so people who work, directly or indirectly, with Memorials marketing and communications team. Right off the top, this person said they had a bug with the media, but could not speak on the record. And fair enough.

This person described a situation that has probably been experienced over the years by dozens of public relations people. However, those people can only grit their teeth and suck it up they cant bring their complaints to the media outlets, for fear of biting the hand that feeds and damaging relationships with editors and reporters.

Recently you may have heard that MUN won a number of national awards for its communications programs, this person wrote. Competing against the top universities in the country, in what is an independently adjudicated process, MUN was the tops. Needless to say, we were ecstatic about the results and I can declare that I was not directly involved in any of the award-winning work, Im on the periphery of it but Im exceptionally proud to work with this group and this institution. I just wanted to see them get the recognition they deserved.

On June 15, the communications people at Memorial issued a media release announcing these awards.

And you know what? It did have an impressive story to tell.

Memorial had just returned from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) Prix d'excellence awards program, where they won more awards than any university in the country. The awards recognize excellence in communications, marketing, alumni relations and fundraising. Memorial received 12 awards, followed by McGill University, which took 10 awards, and McMaster University, which received eight. There was a total of 400 entries, from 48 institutions across the nation.

For the folks at Memorial, and anyone with even a passing interest in post-secondary education or marketing and communications, this is a Big Deal.

However, with a couple of exceptions, the release went unreported.

VOCM reported it on its newscasts the day the release was sent out, my colleague said. Good for them. Not much more they could do. And The Telegram reported it on its website, but didnt include the story in its print edition, which, as we know, is where the most visibility is. NTV and CBC TV and Radio ignored the news entirely.

And here is this persons beef:

Whenever media win a journalism award, that news is reported. The Telegram usually puts these things on page three. Recently, Here and Now reported that Zach Goudie had won one of those Murrow Awards for spot news. Deserving accolades all. But I cant understand why The Telegram didnt see fit to report MUNs success in print and why the CBC and NTV chose not to report at all what was a singular accomplishment for the provinces only university.

Is it because these are communications awards and the natural enmity between journalists and PR professionals is unconsciously, or, heaven forbid, consciously at play? I dont know the answer, but can tell you I was gob smacked when I heard the CBC Murrow coverage, especially right on the heels of ignoring the extraordinary news from MUN.

This one is complex, indeed.

Certainly, news outlets have every right to make hay when they receive national awards.

But what are their obligations, then, when other organizations win national awards that are every bit as prestigious? Do they not owe similar recognition to others, to mark their achievements?

I dont think there is an easy answer to this one. Im sure editors can offer a reasonable explanation of how stories get prioritized, while public relations practitioners can make a good case for why their releases merit coverage. It would do both parties a service to air their views on this issue, and perhaps gain some appreciation for the others position.

And, for this occasion only, I will relax my policy of not permitting anonymous comments, for both communicators and journalists. Thats right, you can air your grievances and defend your positions, freely and openly, without fear of being identified.

If you choose to comment anonymously, just send me an email at gmeeker(at), and I will make it happen. (Sorry, but regular folk will have to sign their names, as usual.)

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