Tuesday, July 14, 2009
A Media drive-by hits TSU
Definitions of drive-by:
“Done or made in a quick or cursory manner”. Webster’s Dictionary
“A drive-by shooting (or drive-by or "D.B." for short) is a form of hit-and-run tactic, an attack carried out by an individual or individuals from a moving or momentarily stopped vehicle. It often results in bystanders being shot instead of, or as well as, the intended target. The objective is to overwhelm the target by a sudden, massive amount of firepower without attention to accuracy”. Wikipedia
According to Urban Dictionary, a “drive-by” media attack implies to shallow, sensationalist, sound-byte-heavy news coverage á la Fox News. Such coverage focus on the scandalous, relies on a reader’s short attention-span, and offers controversial "news" that is mostly cover-up, and/or spin for political purposes.
TSU was on the wrong page at the wrong time and suffered wounds inflicted by our city’s oldest newspaper. An attention grabbing headline on the front page of Saturday’s Tennessean screamed, “TN grad rate is third worst”. Underneath the bold font a large photo depicted students walking on campus, one wearing a shirt that read, “I love TSU”. My youngest son handed me the paper, commenting in a depressed voice, “Mom, TSU has been hit again.”
After seeing the headlines, I put it away to read later. I confess, when I see article after article speaking ill of TSU, I don’t rush to read a negative story. Many of my friends, black and white, often tell me they do not bother to read any TSU story because it is rare any good is reported. “A picture is worth a thousand words”, is an old wise saying. The picture and headline together was a drive-by that left future and current students injured.
For the rest of the story, you have to turn to page 11A where half a page is devoted to the copy. A second photo of TSU records department is prominently placed at the top of the article. The caption underneath the photo in smaller font reads “TSU fairs better than most Tennessee colleges in graduation rates”. I read the article whose headlines seemed to imply that the story was about TSU’s graduation rates. I read the article three times and pondered why the newspaper used TSU’s pics on page 1 and 11 to accompany the sensational headline when the story referenced Belmont, MTSU, and Vanderbilt, and, presumably, all state colleges and universities, public and private. The story gives facts and quotes from the Southern Regional Education Board’s spokesman, Alan Richard and quotes from professors Franklin (MTSU), Gonzalez (Belmont), and Flores (Vanderbilt). A Vanderbilt student is quoted as well. The article discussed in detail issues surrounding Hispanics and Blacks finishing high school and college. College challenges that can be unique to ethnics groups and solutions to close educational gaps were vetted in the article.
On my second reading of the article, I realized no TSU professor or personnel is cited in the story. The article ends by focusing on Ashley Hernandez, 21, a first generation student at Vanderbilt University. But she is taking summer classes at the TSU. In summary, she compares Vanderbilt and TSU. (Duck, here comes the bullets).
At Vanderbilt, Hernandez said, it's unusual if she e-mails a professor and does not hear back from him within a few hours. At TSU, a response can take days.
Wow. Can someone call the corner’s office; folks, I believe we have a fatality. I contacted the reporter to ask why the headline with a picture of TSU was run, when professors from other universities were quoted. Or why not a picture of Miss Hernandez, a Vanderbilt student, with a “I love Commodores” t-shirt on?
Since I am “fair and balanced” like Fox news, I gave her my thoughts on the story. After hearing the reporter’s responses to my questions, I asked if I could quote her. She stated she was not aware she was being interviewed. I was not interviewing her but our conversation was interesting. Our dialogue gave insight to a two prong devil’s fork. The story was not about TSU. But when the paper ran the headlines with TSU’s students in the first photo, used a second photo of TSU’s admission personnel and ended the article with the statements from a part-time student complaining about the university; TSU became its sole target. The reporter was stating facts I was told and it is not the job of a reporter to be concerned about the reputation of TSU. Ouch. My point to her was the photos conveyed a message about TSU which did not connect with the story to me. Her story had an odd smelling odor.
I realized after several push backs, a tiger’s stripes are permanent. My take away from our conversation is that TSU needs to be concerned about the school’s reputation and be proactive in showcasing the schools most precious assets, the students and its outstanding programs. Profiling students and the numerous contributions that are made to society through the university, while marketing to national media outlets are crucial to the school’s long term health. Focusing on a return call back from a newspaper for a positive story is ludicrous at this point. Basic networking teaches us; your message and image are yours to craft and control. How TSU is viewed, is critical to the overall funding, fundraising, recruitment, and retention of students. To roll over and not call out perceived or actual media bias feeds the negative messages that photos under glaring headlines can leave. Public relations have evolved into personal relationship management. The PR of old does not exist anymore in the age of social media.
I strongly suggest to TSU’s leadership to look through their roster of incredibly talented PR graduates who would understand that PR does not mean faxing a press release and invest in a firm that will work night and day to bring all the hidden gems of TSU to the forefront. As part of a long term strategy to build and strengthen community relationships, I would provide interns to local and national media outlets. Allowing the media to work directly with TSU’s talented student body would limit the number of media casualties. Locally, positive stories are usually buried on page 9 of the auto section. In the meantime, I called 911 and asked the diversity police to keep under surveillance the media on Broadway. I believe a crime took place on its front page Saturday, July 11.