Journalism, public relations not synonymous

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Just to be sure, I looked up the two different terms in three different dictionaries. Webster only confirmed what I already knew.

Journalism is not public relations.

Notice my italicized emphasis of “not” in the above sentence, because, well, journalism is not public relations. Those dictionaries, loosely quoted, all deem journalism as “reporting” and “writing” for “any news organization,” and two of them define public relations as an organization or individual “promoting goodwill between itself and the public” and “providing information” that makes “people regard it in a favorable way” (the online Oxford version calls it the “professional maintenance of a favorable public image”).

Those are not the same things, which then also means….

The Vermilion is not PR for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which then also….

Wait. Before I go on, let me explain why I feel I need to explain.

I wrote an article in the Jan. 15 issue grading the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in the 2013 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, which opines that the head coach and the quarterback gave C- and D-quality performances, respectively.

Turns out, Mark Hudspeth disagrees. Oh, and Rusty Whitt — the strength and conditioning coach who notoriously allowed blood gush down his face while on the sidelines of the Cajuns’ first New Orleans Bowl two years ago — didn’t quite see it my way, either.

Hudspeth and Whitt, along with two other university employees, sent me emails expressing their disappointment over the story, which is totally fair and always encouraged. (Hudspeth’s and Whitt’s responses can be read here and here, respectively). The four critics disagreed with most of my arguments, including that Terrance Broadway’s arm injury “only somewhat excused his sub-par passing statistics,” but they weren’t upset because I said them.

They were upset because the UL Lafayette student newspaper said them — or, to be more specific using quotes from two of the emails, it was that “the editor of our campus newspaper”…“attacked our ‘own.’”

Immediately after reading the responses (especially Whitt’s, which told me, “You might have wanted to stay on (Hudspeth’s) good side”), it seemed like the universe was shaking its head at me, thinking, Wow, this girl has some nerve. I was doubting myself, thinking the same thing. But then I quickly remembered.

The Vermilion is not public relations for UL Lafayette.

Journalism is not public relations.

Photo courtesy of muslimvillage.com

Photo courtesy of muslimvillage.com

Before I sound unreasonably belligerent, it’s necessary to note that I respect Hudspeth, Whitt and the others, and I’m nothing but thankful they read our paper, shared their totally valid views and were respectful and polite in additional emails sent to me. The Vermilion and I fully consider all feedback, because our lone purpose is to serve our valued readers. To do so, we offer alternative ideas and fresh perspectives, risking offending someone at the hope of enlightening everyone. The criticism of my New Orleans Bowl critique, though, seemed to suggest — whether intentional or not — that The Vermilion should remain silent when it disapproves of the university.

Basically, if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all.

What would history look like, then, if journalism were public relations? What if Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s duties at the Washington Post were to “professionally maintain a favorite public image” of the president? I’m not comparing myself to them, or The Vermilion to the Post, but you get my point: Our responsibility is not to promote the university but to keep it accountable, which then also means….

The Vermilion is not PR for UL Lafayette, which then also means….

Journalism is not public relations.