Sunday, January 07, 2007

U of O's new School for Spinmeisters

A large attention-grabbing ad “dominates” (as they say) page A13 of yesterday’s Oregonian. These things don’t come cheap. Using experience as a guide, I’d put the cost in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, plus a few extra grand for design and production.

The ad features the following: the smiling face of a winsome young female student, the University of Oregon’s “Zero/Zilch” O logo, and a big, white-on-black headline…

“Heard The Latest PR Buzz?”

At the bottom is the baffling “If UOnly knew” tag line, which is, at best, clever typographically.

But it’s the text of the ad and “the product” that is maddening.

The ad’s body breathlessly tells us The UO School of Journalism and Communications is opening the new Turnbull Center in Portland as a “fast track to hands-on experience and a real job in media” for its students.

If only we were talking journalism here.

For years Portland has needed a first-rate journalism program. Sadly the Turnbull Center, named after the late journalism professor George S. Turnbull, isn’t offering it.

The Turnbull Center’s curriculum, with a few exceptions, is counter-journalism. The center, bankrolled by Lorry Lokey, who made millions by starting a public relations wire service, will be devoted to —surprise, surprise— Public Relations.

Trained in the ways of, but not the higher calling of, journalism, effervescent UO students, like the one depicted, will be taught how to be “public faces,” “damage control specialists,” and “spokespersons” for corporate clients. The ad proudly names a few: Nike, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and Fleishmman-Hillard.

Missing from the list are any Portland news media organization.

And while not all PR is bad, and some is even helpful to journalists, the curriculum touts the need for “strategic communication.” The ad even announces that the Center is planning a “Masters in Strategic Communication.”

The PR stratagems behind “strategic” are often all too familiar: story spinning, flack-catching, truth twisting, topic changing, media manipulating, best-light casting and question begging.

Meanwhile the State Legislature has convened in Salem to, among other things, bolster higher education in the state. The lawmakers might begin by changing the Turnbull Center's mission to higher pursuits, like good old-fashioned journalistic truth-telling.

P.S. If you want to witness “strategic communication” in action, look no father than the same issue of The Oregonian, page A1. Shades of the film “Thank you for smoking” are the professionally chosen words of R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard. In the story, he defends the test marking in Portland of tobacco packets called SNUS. Highly addictive, they contribute to mouth and throat cancer, and Howard claims, as if it’s OK, that they are “only” targeted to adult users.

Just like Joe Camel, huh, Dave? For more on the SNUS Portland targeting see the Portland Tribune's coverage. The Tribune story brilliantly lays out what we in the media literacy movement call media "deconstruction."

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