“We Can’t Censor War”

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND DISTURBING

During an afternoon broadcast today of MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s “Deadline: Whitehouse,” The New York Times’ Lynsey Addario discussed an image that ran on the paper’s website (see “Russian forces fire on evacuees, leaving 4 people dead outside Kyiv”) and in its print edition showing four victims of fighting (three of whom were deceased at the time the photo was taken) in the Ukrainian city of Irpin (see below). Addario had been in Ukraine covering the Russian invasion of the country, including in Irpin where especially intense shelling had taken place. During the broadcast, Addario told Wallace that it was difficult to take the photograph (which she took herself) and equally as difficult to discuss with her editors the publishing of it. She said they spent much time discussing publishing the photo, but ultimately decided to do so, she said, because “people need to see the effects of [Russia] targeting civilians.” In the end, she added, they felt that “we can’t censor war.”

Reporting on armed conflicts can often result in similar moral dilemmas. In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, photographer Kenneth Jarecke’s photo of a charred body of an Iraqi soldier was the subject of a similar debate. As chronicled by Torie Rose DeGhett in The Atlantic (see “The War Photo No One Would Publish”), Time magazine and the Associated Press refused to run the graphic image, a decision mirrored by other U.S. media outlets.

Such are the moral questions precipitated by war coverage: Do media outlets, in the interest of transparency and the need to inform the public, publish graphic images of warfare? Or should they refrain from running such images that may serve as harmful emotional triggers for readers or viewers? Perhaps it is purely situational in context, dependent on a particular conflict, dependent on public opinion regarding a particular conflict, or dependent on the egregious nature of the conflict and its victims. What are the moral standards in play here? Is this a case of cultural ethical relativism at work? What do you think?

Source: The New York Times

Where Public Relations Is Right On Race – And Where It’s Wrong

Showing some sensitivity toward the perpetuation of terribly racist branding, consumer products companies have recently chosen to re-brand themselves. The first to do so in September 2020 was the former Uncle Ben’s line of rice dishes marketed by Mars, Incorporated (see “Uncle Ben’s Changing Name To Ben’s Original After Criticism Of Racial Stereotyping”). Next it was Quaker Oats’s Aunt Jemima brand of baking mixes, syrups and prepared breakfast foods (see “Aunt Jemima finally has a new name”). Mars chose “Ben’s Original” for its new brand; Quaker Oats opted for “Pearl Milling Company” as a replacement for Aunt Jemima. While these moves should perhaps be applauded, both for their cultural awakening and as public relations victories, some PR professionals will say that their industry is in dire need of an awakening–particularly in the hidden hallways, offices and cubicles of PR offices.

Clearly, getting rid of racist branding is a positive step toward the sensitive treatment of race in commerce. In a statement, Mars said, “We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the Uncle Ben’s brand … We have committed to change.” A Quaker Oats spokesperson struck a slightly different tone, saying in part “We are starting a new day with Pearl Milling Company. A new day rooted in the brand’s historic beginnings and its mission to create moments that matter at the breakfast table.” Interestingly, the comment seemed to focus on the “breakfast table” rather than openly acknowledging a break with the “ugly truth behind Aunt Jemima” (see “New Racism Museum Reveals the Ugly Truth Behind Aunt Jemima”). Of course, though it seems desirable to praise these kinds of changes, it might be good to bear in mind that sales of rice, pancakes and syrup might be the ultimate goal of such re-branding.

Although these may be seen as solid PR victories in the battle of vicious racial stereotypes, the same can’t be said for how race is managed inside PR shops. Some seem to be less than diverse. PR professional Jo Ogunleye points this out in a blog post on her experiences as a practitioner (see “Black Lives Matter: from one Black PR to the industry”). “Throughout my entire PR career, from my first internship to today, across in-house and agency, and in both public and private sectors, I have only ever had two jobs with another Black person in my team,” she says. “I have never had a Black boss.”

Statistics seem to back up her claim. A 2018 Harvard Business Review analysis of federal labor statistics found the industry is 87.9 percent White, 8.3 percent African-American, 2.6 percent Asian American, and 5.7 percent Hispanic or Latinx. Increasing diversity might start in the classroom. As Kelsey Landis, editor-in-chief of INSIGHT Into Diversity points out, more must be done to make university public relations programs more diverse, including making minorities more aware of public relations as a career path (see “The Public Relations Industry Is Too White and the Solution Starts with Higher Education”).

So it seems that when it comes to dealing with race, there are some issues that PR as an industry is getting right; on the other hand, there’s still room for much improvement, particularly among the ranks of PR professionals. That there is room for improvement begs the question: Does PR’s lack of diversity cast a shadow over how it has responded to the managing of brands? Moreover, what can be said about Landis’s claim when it comes to Creighton University; or, for that matter, our own Department of Computer Science, Design and Journalism?