Award Winning Journalist Gwen Ifill Dies at Age 61

The month of November brought the loss of a prominent African-American journalist who broke ground throughout her career. Gwen Ifill died at the age of 61 from complications from breast and endrometrial cancer.

Ifill’s nearly four decade career began in 1977 as an intern at the Boston Herald-American. After she found a racially charged note on her desk, the editors of the paper decided to offer her a permanent position upon her college graduation. Soon Ifill was making a name for herself in the journalism field accepting positions at the Baltimore Evening Sun and Washington Post. In 1991 she began covering The White House as a reporter for the New York Times and by 1994 she was on television with NBC as a reporter on Capitol Hill.

But it was her role as a moderator of Washington Week in Review on PBS that cemented her status as a groundbreaking journalist. Ifill became the first African-American female to host a nationally televised political talk show. This past spring Ifill co-moderated a Democratic primary debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Ifill’s contributions kept coming as she served on various boards including the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the Harvard Institute of Politics. She was also the author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which spotlighted various African-American politicians, including President Barrack Obama.

In a news conference after her death President Obama called Ifill a friend and an “extraordinary journalist.”

Judy Woodruff, Ifill’s co-anchor described her as someone who loved to tell stories and help others understand what was happening in the world. She called her a role model, especially “for young women of color.”

Ifill prided herself on being an unbiased reporter of the facts. “My job as a reporter is not to know what I think,” she once said.

Top Communications Firms are Recruiting Special Op Forces Veterans

Kicking in doors may not seem like an obvious skill set to lead to a career in the PR industry. However, top communications firms are hiring select special op forces veterans and find that their backgrounds are perfect for the field.

PR Week interviewed Chris Erickson—a former Green Beret who now works for Ketchum full-time. Part of Erickson’s job in the Army involved developing messages for cultures. Thus, his background in cross-cultural communications serves him very well in his new career.

Veterans from the special forces bring a new mindset and strong time management skills to the table. With their highly demanding training, these veterans have a highly determined mindset that they will get something done, no matter what.

In addition, these veterans have been trained to look at issues from various angles. Also, being used to life and death situations, they tend to stay calm under pressure.

Denise Bottiglieri, who had the idea for recruiting these types of veterans for the Omincom Group of PR companies, noted that the special ops veterans have trained communications leaders in the importance of debriefing after every initiative, program, or project.

The program for recruiting special ops veterans launched in January 2015. The Accelerate Exbellum program in the Omnicom Group recruits and screens 10 Special Ops Forces candidates and then helps them prepare for interviews. The program selects one candidate to complete a yearlong residency and then guarantees the opportunity to transition into a full-time job.

The company assists veterans not chosen for the program to find a job within the holding company. Omnicom firms involved in this program include:

  • Cone Communications
  • FleishmanHillard
  • Ketchum
  • Porter Novelli

Other major PR firms also have programs specifically for veterans including:

  • Edelman
  • Hill+Knowlton Strategies
  • Ogilvy Public Relations

Public Relations Students Tasked with Massive Planning Opportunity

Two public relations students were charged with the challenge of overseeing a partnership between the University of Indianapolis and Ball State to act as host schools for the 2016 National Conference for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The conference was held at the Marriot Indianapolis Downtown from October 21 – 25.

Katie Ronzio and Hanna Riffle spent a year putting their education into practice while heading up the massive planning effort. The two students utilized virtual meetings, in-person meetings and emails to make the partnership possible. The Core 12, a group of a dozen Ball State students, backed Ronzio’s and Riffle’s efforts during the conference by providing assistance where needed.

The conference attracted an estimated one thousand public relation students who had the opportunity to network with peers and professionals. Students also learned about current trends in the public relations industry.

Ball State and the University of Indianapolis earned the hosting rights for the 2016 event during the 2015 conference when they submitted a 52-page proposal which the judges approved. “Since earning the right to host the event, our job has been to plan it from the ground up, and then execute daily operations,” said Riffle. In addition to setting up the event, the PRSSA National Committee and 30 other volunteers were on-site to ensure the conference ran smoothly.

Deborah Davis, a faculty advisor for Cardinal Communications and public relations coordinator at Ball State, said that the planning experience will move Riffle and Ronzio into “an elite group of students”.

Now that their project has come to a successful end, Ronzio and Riffle have teamed up to pass on what they’ve learned to future conference coordinators. They are working with Davis on creating a step-by-step procedure for the 2017 conference.

2016 National Black Public Relations Society Conference Boasts Something for Everyone

The 2016 National Black Public Relations Society, Inc. (NBPRS) national conference takes place on October 28 in Chicago, Illinois. This year the keynote speaker will be April D. Ryan. Ryan is the author of The Presidency in Black & White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America and a veteran White House Correspondent.

NBPRS president Neil Foote said that this year’s conference would offer a variety of seminars and workshops for every level of PR professional:

  • Those starting their first job in PR
  • Those making a career change to PR
  • Mid or senior-level PR professionals

The conference aims to convey new insights, help refine skills, and provide networking opportunities.

The president of the Chicago NBPRS, Raschanda Hall, expressed excitement about having the conference in Chicago. She promised a full and creative program that will give PR professionals the additional devices they need to succeed in their jobs.

Besides featuring Ryan as a keynote speaker, Fred Cook, CEO of Golin, will also host a session. Public relations experts from Walmart, AT&T, Ketchum and Burson-Marstellar will be on-hand to run workshops which will include topics such as how recruiters target professionals at different skill levels. Strategies for social media, entertainment, sports and global public relations will be discussed in special Master Classes that will be offered as well. The conference promises to offer something for everyone.

The NBPRS was founded in 1998 and has more than 500 members. It was formed to serve black professionals in the communications industries including media relations, public relations, investor relations and government affairs. It offers opportunities for career advancement, internships, networking and other peer support.

In 2015, NBPRS published 2015 State of the PR Industry: Defining and Delivering on the Promise of Diversity. The white paper discusses efforts to move towards greater diversity within the profession.

Public Relations Pioneer Remembered for Always Standing Up Against Adversity

The city of Overland Park, Kansas lost an icon this summer when 98-year-old Inez Kaiser passed away after losing her battle with kidney disease. Kaiser, who was born Inez Louise Yeargan on April 22, 1918, is on record with the Public Relations Society of America as the first African-American woman to own a public relations company with a national clientele.

The former home economics teacher left teaching in her early 40’s to pursue a career as a fashion writer and public relations executive. Some of her larger clients included Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Seven-Up Co. In the 1970’s, Kaiser also worked with the federal government as an advisor on minority-owned businesses.

Kaiser, who had been interviewed by the Kansas City Star in 2014, said that things didn’t always go smoothly for her as she grew her public relations business. In the early 1960’s, she came against opposition when trying to find office space in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. She was told over and over that there wasn’t any available office space. Instead of looking elsewhere, Kaiser went to the rental agents and gave them an ultimatum. She threatened the head of the realty agency that she would contact the three major news networks and advise them of what was happening. Soon after, she had her office space.

This isn’t the first time Kaiser stood up to opposition. While attending Kansas State Teachers College in the 1930’s, Kaiser had a teacher who didn’t want any black students in her classroom. “I told her I wasn’t going anywhere…and I stayed right there and got my degree,” she said.

Kaiser is survived by a son, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In his eulogy to his mother, her son, Rick, spoke of his mother’s belief in doing something, not just saying it. “So I am asking if all of you will do something. The next time you go to your place of worship, ask someone to go with you that doesn’t look like you,” he encouraged.

Independent Monitors Create Alternative Communication Source for Metro Riders

Approximately 700,000 people in areas throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC rely on the Metrorail for their transportation needs. But what happens when the Metrorail experiences problems and its official information feeds don’t communicate fast enough to comfort passengers?

If you happen to be frequent Metrorail passengers, James Pizzurro, Roger Bowles, and Stephen Repetski, then you create your own news source. In January 2016, the three men decided to co-found Rail Transit OPS using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to offer independent monitoring of the Metro’s daily functions.

Although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority already provides official service status reports, alerts, and advisories, the Rail Transit OPS co-founders felt official sites were prone to time delays and often lacked detailed information. So what is the Rail Transit OPS team doing that that Metro official aren’t.

Working collaboratively, Repetski, Pizzurro, and Bowles use a combination of real-time data, scanner traffic, the MetroHero app, past incident reports, eyewitness accounts, and National Safety Board documents to paint a more complete picture of Metrorail issues as they arise.

And while Metro officials are aware of the Rail Transit OPS’s existence, they insist that communication gaps occur to preserve the accuracy of information being publicized.

Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “Hobbyists are commonplace in the transit industry, and we respect their enthusiasm. As the official source of information, it is important that we take time to ensure that information is accurate before release—something that cannot be done by merely listening to the radio.”

As of May 2016, the Metrorail’s Twitter page @Metrorailinfo had 53.2K followers, while the @RailTransitOPS Twitter page boasted just over 2,000 followers. Clearly, the Metroline remains the premier source for transit information for most patrons. But as society continues to demand better, faster information, will that last?

Improving Communications with Cutting-Edge Tech Tools

According to reports released by the Kauffman Foundation, the rate of new entrepreneurs in the United States rose by roughly 10% from 2014 to 2015.

As more people continue creating their own companies, the demand for cost-effective and timesaving ways to improve communications will likewise rise. Luckily, there are now several services and tools available on the market enabling businesses to easily communicate with wide audiences without expending unnecessary money or labor resources.

Nudgespot is a messenger app that appears as a screen icon on the bottom right on websites and mobile apps. The tool is designed to allow online businesses and their support teams communicate with visitors while monitoring how they interact with the site in real time. Team members using Nudgespot can also add coworkers to conversations, assign employee tasks, and define communication goals.

BuzzStream is marketing device that helps users build a database of potential contacts by simply clicking on social media profiles, search result lists, bloggers, and websites. BuzzStream can also take a catalog of URLs and dig up related contact data, social metrics, and website statistics. From this information, BuzzStream can then sort your contact list according to their level of influence, authority, and user interaction.

QuickMail is an email management tool that enables the user to send automated outbound emails at scale. Users can also schedule follow-up emails, which QuickMail can access while tracking which recipients respond to outgoing emails. As an added perk, QuickMail lets users add customization and variation features to their emails so they have a more personalized look.

Calendly is an interactive calendar device used to more seamlessly schedule meetings. Calendly is basically a URL that displays events grabbed from the user’s Google or Office 365 calendars. Co-workers and clients can then look at the URL to find which dates and times the user is available for meetings. Calendly even offers automated meeting confirmations and reminder emails.

Listicles: Lazy, or Another Step in Linguistic Development?

For those unfamiliar, a listicle is an article written in the format of a list. These can range from short lists containing pictures and maybe a caption (Top Five Amazing Shots from Star Wars VII), smaller bits of text (Ten Best Things Neil Patrick Harris said on How I Met Your Mother), or even long form writing (Ten Massive Flaws in the Last Harry Potter Film). But are they good? In one sense, they must be. The format, easy and yet nuanced and relatable, has led to a level of ubiquity in American culture. Facebook has them, Buzzfeed is known for them, and even major news networks like The Washington Post and CNN are starting to use the format.

But some are frustrated with the listicles, suggesting it is merely a cheap method of creating content and driving up page views on websites that are funded through ad hosting. In addition, some wonder if listicles contribute to the ever-shortening attention span of humanity in an age where a simple Internet search can result in the ability to peruse a few paragraphs on over 1 million different websites related to the search term.

In a beautifully written opinion piece for the New Yorker, Mark O’Conner muses on what exactly is so appealing about listicles: “It [the popularity of listicles] arises out of a desire to impose order on a life, a culture, a society, a difficult matter, a vast and teeming panorama of cat adorability and nineties nostalgia.

Umberto Eco, philosopher, author and famous literary critic, considers the very idea of a list to be a representation of humanity’s yearning for control. “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order.” Studies are showing that the Internet might be decreasing the attention span of those who use it; Microsoft performed a study with digital natives in Canada and found that attention spans have decreased by about four seconds since the advent of smartphones. However, there is not much research as to whether or not listicles contribute to this at all.

There is an argument for listicles that claims they’re a key part of a revolution against corporately controlled media, as a giving back to the people the power of published expression. Seventy years ago, someone wanting to share his or her experiences in a public forum would have to attempt publication in a newspaper, journal or other physical medium. But now, anyone with access to the Internet can share his or her thoughts in a published form, through a personal blog or a hosting site like BuzzFeed.

Not only this, but many in groups traditionally underrepresented by mass media can find identification in listicles that are about their values, their culture, and what they find funny. Examples for this include racial groups (77 Questions Black People Are Tired of Hearing), gender identifications (8 Things Gay Guys Should Start Saying to Each Other), and nationalities (10 Things You Didn’t Know About Germans).

These get more specific as well, delving into the experience of second-generation American immigrants with parents who came from Vietnam, or a half-black half-Latino gay man living in France. Now while white people might not think twice about this, a majority of people groups now can read and share headlines and articles that cater exactly to how they feel in a way mass media has been unable to.

All in all, it seems that more research should be done to determine whether or not listicles truly contribute to a shorter attention span. Either way, it seems they will continue to be a part of the Internet experience.

Jaw Dropping Magazine Sales Pull English Print Media Into Foreign Markets

Two print media giants, The Financial Times and The Economist, shocked the financial and the print world this last year after selling for well beyond their projected value to new owners.

Print media outlets of all kinds have been lagging for years, with most transitioning to online formats as they struggle to hold on to their readership. Household names like Time magazine have had to cut employees and close down magazines entirely. Yet, volatile as the industry may be, The Financial Times sold to an employee owned Japanese publisher called Nikkei for a jaw dropping $1.3 billion, 44 times its operating profit. The Economist was sold to Italian investment firm Exor S.p.A. for a respectable $715 million, 15 times its operating profit.

To put things in perspective, USA Today, the largest currently operating newspaper publisher, trades at around five times its cash flow, only a third of what The Economist sold for. Nikkei and Exor were willing to pay these exorbitant sums for the same reason; they believe the impact of the global market on print media is being underestimated.

“If you have a distinct journalistic offer, which is independent; if you have a readership, which is growing in the world because more people want to be informed and speak and read English; and if you have technology that can help you reach much more of them than you could in the past, the combination of that, if well executed, is pretty powerful,” said John Elkann, the 39 year old chairman of Exor.

His statement is reflected in similar ones by the Nikkei chairman Tsuneo Kita. Kita shared in an email that he had wanted to partner with The Financial times to help develop his company’s presence in an English publication. Kita and Elkann both believe that as the news business adapts in response to the digital revolution that opportunity will arise for momentous change.

The potential for English print media in a world that is increasingly adopting English as a standard language has the potential to have an earth shattering impact on the business world. It remains to be seen whether these purchases will pay off, but it goes without saying that the magazine magnate sales have made waves in the previously stagnant world of print media.

ESPN Shuts Down Grantland, their Sports Journalism and Pop Culture Site

Grantland founder Bill Simmons left ESPN recently, taking many of his top staff with him to support him as part of his new role at HBO. Grantland, a specialty sports and pop culture site owned by ESPN, was subsequently shut down on October 30th. Many are mourning the site’s discontinuation, as it was regarded by some as “an ambitious leap into the future of journalism on at least two fronts.”

Erik Rydholm’s model of journalism defines the practice as three distinct methods of reporting: “what”, “so what”, and “now what”. In an era of instant gratification where news sites are trying to break news before anyone else, it would appear that the “what” method of reporting is the most important. What set Grantland apart from other sports outlets, including parent site, was their choice to focus on the latter methods.

Simmons imagined a sports site where instead of trying to report on the latest scores or injuries, their content would be more concerned with the career effects of being drafted after the first round or the exact value a star player brings to their team. Grantland’s intentional choice to avoid reporting on scores or trades helped create a unique voice that stood out from the myriad of other sources all scrambling to be the first to break the news.

Grantland was also unique in journalism in that it acted as an open platform for its writers to share content they were excited about. This could range anywhere from sports to comic books to sitcoms. Bill Simmons and the Grantland team valued interesting people just as much as interesting content. While Simmon’s departure from the company wasn’t exactly on good terms, ESPN executives claimed the reason for their decision to shut down Grantland was simply because it made sense for their business.

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