The opinions expressed herein are those of Andrew Bucholtz and not those of The CIS Blog. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's highly unusual for this blog to run not one, but two posts on the hiring of a CIS media relations staffer. However, in this case, I think it needs to be done. Neate Sager makes a good case below for his concerns about OUA's hiring of Laura Bridgman as their new communications and social media coordinator. Neate makes some valid points, but I think there's another side to the story that also should be presented.
Joe Posnanski wrote an excellent piece the other day on how the coverage of the Tiger Woods saga was primarily a function of the media era we live in, while previous stars such as Hal Sutton had their off-course misadventures largely glossed over. Some of the same logic may apply here. In 2010, there seems to be the presumption that everything a person does should reflect on their career and their professional skills, and I take issue with this.
If you read tales from old-time sportswriters like this great collection of Jim Coleman's work, you find tons of stories of journalists who kept bottles in the desk drawers of newsrooms or engaged in other practices we'd look down on today. One of my all-time favourite writers, Grantland Rice, is widely reputed to have had late-night drinking sessions with athletes he covered like Babe Ruth. My hero Hunter S. Thompson probably wouldn't have a chance in hell of getting a media job today given all the stuff he got up to. I'm not saying those are the correct tactics to follow, but despite behaviour that would be vilified in today's age of Facebook, personal blogs and hyper-observation, many of those writers still managed to carry out their profession at a level some of us today can only dream about.
In my mind, we need a separation of the professional and the private. I've never met Ms. Bridgman and I've never dealt with her in a professional capacity, so I'm going to reserve judgment until I've done that instead of coming to a conclusion based on personal blog posts or brief Twitter bios. This is something that's come up in the past with bloggers (see The Washington Post firing Michael Tunison after he revealed he was Kissing Suzy Kolber's Christmas Ape or the NCAA's Bylaw Blog getting shut down thanks to a blogger's exposure of its author), and it's led to many people writing blogs anonymously to try and minimize professional repercussions.
I'm not a big fan of anonymously-written blogs, as some people use the license anonymity provides in harmful ways, but I understand why people use it for fear of the professional impacts blogging can have. If Ms. Bridgman wrote her blog completely anonymously, we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's not completely anonymous, but that doesn't mean it's relevant to her ability to do her job. And you're not going to see me taking a stand against people running personal blogs on the side under their own names; those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, after all.
The information Ms. Bridgman chooses to put out there may reflect that she isn't overly interested in controlling the message, but I'm not looking for that in an OUA communications and social media coordinator. Speaking as a journalist, I think there are far too many attempts at message control from PR professionals these days, and I think it often hurts the organizations who employ those types of people. What I'm looking for from someone in this role is a person who will help media types get the information they need or are interested in, rather than spoon-feeding them positive stories.
Neate's right that most of the national CIS stories lately have been negative, but I don't think that's necessarily thanks to any failing in media relations. It's a fact of the news business that many of the really interesting stories are negative; a story on a plane crash may be negative, but it's much more interesting than a story on 900,000 planes that arrived at their destination safely. The positive stories are out there, but they're often profiles of interesting athletes or coaches or news on how a school is turning its programs around, and most of those pieces are done at a local or regional level rather than a national one. The way I see it, the job of CIS media relations types isn't to try and divert attention from an event like the Waterloo scandal or the Mike Danton controversy towards a more positive story, but rather to make sure that those covering the negative stories receive all the facts. Doing that well will ensure that their side of the story gets out there. Sure, I'd also like to see CIS media relations types drawing attention to positive stories about their athletes and schools, and I'm happy to write about those things as well, but the fact remains that the negative stories will draw the most attention on a national scale.
Experience also isn't the be-all and end-all for how successful someone will be at a position (fortunately, or younger people like myself would never be able to land a decent job). It certainly plays a role and can be a crucial asset, but I don't think it's the only thing that should be considered. If it was, no one would ever be hired, as everyone would have to have already done the job they're applying for. Ms. Bridgman may not have the experience of other candidates who applied, but that doesn't necessarily mean she isn't the right person for the job, and she may bring a new perspective rather than doing things a certain way for tradition's sake. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in a purely experiential hiring philosophy.
Laura Bridgman may be very successful in this new role, or she may not be. We'll have to wait and see. I don't think that the personal information she has chosen to put out there has much of a bearing on her ability to take up this professional opportunity, though. I'd rather judge her by what she does (and will do) in her job than what she chooses to write on a personal blog.