Report card: a grade for Public Relations 101



As students, we are constantly graded by the administration every day. The administration deserves a grade every now and then. I decided to break down and grade three the press releases by the college and by President Chabotar.Here is the first, from President Chabotar:

Quite naturally, news coverage and public discussion have stirred strong emotions among our students and the wider community. Some want action and they want it now. People are choosing sides and placing blame without knowing what actually happened. Impassioned debates are occurring in a factual vacuum. My staff and I have overheard students discussing the fight. In one exchange, one student said to the other, “How do you know? You weren’t there. I was!” None of us should jump to conclusions. Sadly, many have. I encourage everyone not to indict or convict individuals or groups based on the morning newspaper or the evening news. Reporters have to report and we accept that, but think about it, journalists can’t know the truth when we ourselves who are investigating don’t know it yet. All of us should take a breath, pause, and wait for the outcome of the probes. – from Kent Chabotar’s Op-Ed

Chabotar does a fine job in this release. He describes exactly what was going to happen from an administrative point of view – a process. The action cannot be all at once; it has to be step by step not blaming one side without knowing the full story, and this release should have helped prevent that. And the truth is, as Chabotar says, journalists like myself and the rest of The Guilfordian cannot possible know what happened when the college as a community is unsure of what happened. President Chabotar receives an A- on this release.

Meanwhile, the first release from the college, found on the Web site, does a good job of clarifying that the crime derived from alcohol, but it unnecessarily labels the students as International and student-athletes:

According to available evidence, including reports from staff and students on the scene, the altercation in the Bryan Hall courtyard on Jan. 20 lasted less than five minutes and involved physical violence and alleged verbal abuse during and after the incident . at least some of the students were under the influence of alcohol. International students and student-athletes enrolled at Guilford were involved as well as non-students. About a dozen students participated either in the fight or attempts to break it up.

The college just outlines what we all already know, but with pressure from the press labels what kind of students were involved. In a police report, the cop doesn’t write down “Caucasian male, 6’1, 190, English major, member of the drama club.” If it was so important to the college to investigate whether or not this was a hate crime, and not divide the campus, the press release shouldn’t insinuate that this was a crime against international students by student athletes. The release should have read, “Students at Guilford were involved.” This was an uncharacteristic crime worsened by alcohol, not a hate crime. This release receives a C.

Finally, the frequently asked questions, or FAQ, have been weak. This release, found on Guilford’s Web site, highlights questions like “Was this a hate crime?” and “Did Public Safety arrive on time?” – important questions. The only problem I have with this is that some of the questions seemed to be patting the college on the back for the way they handled things. Public Safety isn’t crucial here, and the definition of a hate crime is important, but still not the most important or frequently asked question. The most frequently asked question is “What happened?” This question will never be fully answered but could have been at least explored on the release. The FAQ release receives a C.

Overall, the administration got mixed reviews. There is a lot of room left for improvement, but they still handled the situation a little above average. As a student, I’d be satisfied with a C+. It’s up to the administration if they’re satisfied with that or not.