Writing Boots regulars will remember my piece from last Monday, “Re. Poisonous Pink Slime: A Letter from a Vigilante Trade Journalist,” in which I called out a patently asinine article on PRNEWS titled, “There’s No Such Thing as an Effective Apology Anymore.”
The author of that piece argued that CEOs should never apologize, even when they’re wrong, and that their crisis PR strategies ought to be “as blunt as a fist to the face.”
What happened next did not contradict my claim, in the same post, that competent PR trade journalism has been replaced by editorial “pink slime,” mostly contributed by self-promoters and edited thoughtlessly, if edited at all.
The author of the article, a Pittsburgh PR agency owner, didn’t return my email. I forwarded it to the editors of PRNEWS, and one of them did get back to me, telling me: “We hear you. Many readers have expressed views similar to yours. Others agreed with the author’s thrust. It’s a useful debate and the author has approached a controversial subject. We appreciate you letting us know your view. Should you care to write a rebuttal, we’ll consider publishing it.”
I told him I’d send “a slightly more temperate” version of the letter I’d sent to the agency owner, that they could publish as an open letter. Then I did a slight edit and sent it along. The editor replied:
I replied to this combination of nonsense (bad) and cravenness (bad) by noting that I couldn’t very well recalibrate my open letter to address a version of the more sensible article he should have published—an article which wouldn’t have inspired me to write in the first place:
“You did publish it, and it’s been up there in its raw form for a week, drawing all kinds of responses, as you suggested, and being read by people like the 30-year corporate communication veteran who sent it to me, telling me ‘it’s the least helpful crisis PR piece I’ve ever read.’ Which turned out to be an understatement! Here’s what I recommend: That you publish my rebuttal to the original piece—and with it, an editor’s note, ironically enough, apologizing for the lack of editing, as you do below. I think that would wrap up the whole matter pretty well, don’t you? In any case, let me know what you decide.”
“Fair enough,” he replied. “Likely we’ll run your rebuttal.” I thanked him, and asked him to let me know when the rebuttal was posted.
The next afternoon, I asked him again.
He said he wasn’t sure when it would post.
I told him I was going out of town and wanted to let my readers know the piece was up, and that I couldn’t see any reason for a holdup. I added: “If my rebuttal isn’t posted along with your editor’s note by the time I get back, I’m going to publish our email exchange on my blog, which I believe will provide my readers with the clearest representation of the truth of the entire situation.”
Reading this while walking through San Francisco International Airport, I got mad and typed, “Absolutely not … Please run this as I wrote it, or I’ll tell the story myself in my own way.” Less than an hour later, I thought the better of my response, and offered to read what they wrote, as long as they got the edit to me by close-of-business the next day.
“Fair?” I asked.
Then he wrote to say, “OK, we’re going to try to edit in in time.”
They missed the deadline by more than two hours, but I understand why it took more than 24 hours to edit. They cut it by about two-thirds, down to 140 words. I replied, “No. … As you must know, the mild-mannered letter to the editor you have created here doesn’t come close to a full-throated rebuttal to the utterly foolish piece you published and insist on leaving on your site. The way you and your organization have handled this demonstrates my original point far better than the open letter I sent you did in the first place. As I will relate in detail to my readers next week, as soon as I’m back from my trip.”
And—after a jangled business trip that turned into a motorcycle rip-around that turned into an unhappy discovery of a creepy pocket of California culture (more on that next week)—so I have.
Meanwhile, the original article is still up on the PRNEWS site under its original headline and in its original form (or close to it), without any trace of the “useful debate” the editor was boasting that it had generated. Just a tardily posted disclaimer that appears at the top of none of the other articles on the site:
Sometime during the above tempest in a piss pot, high-profile PR agency owner Ron Torossian resigned after Crain’s New York reported that his agency was running a sham PR trade industry site called Everything-PR, that promoted his firm and bashed rivals without disclosing its ownership, and with agency employees posing as journalists.
A sham trade site like that couldn’t last a month in a world full of real ones.