Thursday, February 19, 2009

As a fellow '80s dollar-jockey, I'm making you my new vice chairman



I have a new goal in life: become the president of several universities over the course of the next 60 years and shut down every Public Relations program I can get my grubby little fingers on.

PR people — media hacks — disinformation distributors — are the bane of journalists everywhere. PR people are trained in the arts of industry buzz words, gloss-over phrasings, question-evading and circle-talking. The usefulness of corporate PR people is at least understandable: they do not want negative news about their employers to reach the public. What isn't acceptable is the increasingly secretive corporate culture infiltrating American government. Administrators, whose salaries are paid by you and I — do not want to talk to journalists about their government programs, even though we pay for them and are directly affected by them.

In the course of writing about the federal stimulus money central Illinois is to receive for infrastructure projects, IDOT administrators repeatedly herded me back to PR hacks ready to provide vague, uneducated answers to precise questions. It's easy: government administrators provide the media relations personnel with just enough info not to hurt themselves or the institution. Even more infuriating, I'm typically not attempting any sort of "gotcha" journalism, whatever the fuck that means. I'm simply trying to do my best to maintain government transparency and honesty.

Lucky for me, I made enough phone calls to enough IDOT departments that eventually an honest administrator spoke with me. It was nice to talk to someone that actually works on the projects and has say about where the money would go. I ignored requests to call the PR lady, but eventually she found me, unaware that I had already spoken with an informed human being, not a nonsense spouting robot.

I asked her a few polite questions but my head nearly exploded when she dropped this bit of English-breaking baloney:
"(The stimulus money) is just a piece of the pie. Like, literally, if you had an apple pie, this would be just one slice."

Never mind the misuse of the word 'literally,' she actually felt the need to explain the meaning of that incredibly complicated metaphor. Thank you, PR lady, for spending more time explaining the nuance of a cliche than you did attempting to understand the details of millions of dollars being used to repair our roads and bridges.

4 comments:

... said...

i do media relations for a university for a living and i can tell you right now that those people know exactly what they're doing to you.

it does suck though. my boss and i were both journalists and we do our best to help reporters and be accurate/honest b/c we know what it was like, but i know we are atypical.

... said...

p.s. that dance wasn't as safe as they said it was.

Warped Coasters said...

dear ...,
occasionally I find PR people in your mold, and it makes me happier than a leprechaun on Saint Patty's day. As far as the nonsense spouting robot PR people — I find them in two molds — 1.) The kind that are oblivious to their lack of insight and helpful information like the IDOT lady, and 2.) incredibly skilled and evil PR disinformation junkies who take pleasure in steering me directly into piles of bullshit.

The Juice Box said...

My favorites, are the ones who used to be journalists. I'm aware a good amount of them are, but the ones that just left the industry ... it's so crazy to see how they transform into beasts over only a few months. The best part, is when they try to do your job when you're on a "conference call" with them and a top person in the company, i.e. - interrupting your questions with their own.