TRUTH may make men free, but truth and publicity are not always one and the same, Critics of publicity label it the antithesis of truth, Its defenders admit that it sometimes is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Yet, whether it is intended to reveal or to conceal the truth, its social, vocational, and technical aspects are thought-provoking.
To be sure, truth when recognized is often unwelcome, It’ must run the gauntlet of ignorance and prejudice and even then be greeted with apathy and inertia, The average man shies away from truth that is wet behind the ears, Usually a conservative conformist, he prefers only that truth that has been sanctified by tradition and certified by convention. Thus, what he accepts as truth–but too often not truth-determines his decisions.
Access to truth, of course, is a luxury enjoyed only in the edmocracies. In totalitarian states a man’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs, convictions, and judgments are supplied by a central bureu of enlightenment and propaganda. Where men are free intellectually, politically, socially, and economically, it is vital to their welfare that channels of information be kept unpolluted, Fortunately, modern publicity men generally are more interested in keeping the channels clear than in muddying the stream.
The Nature of Publicity
What is publicity? The Routzahns say that it is “the fact of making information public” Quiett and Casey in The Principles of Publicity define it thus: “Publicity is the specialized effort of presenting to the public particularistic news and views in an effort to influence opinion and conduct, “H.F. Harrington and Lawrence Martin in Pathways to Print sny that news “is written from the standpoint of one who desires to be informed, “whereas publicity is written “from the viewpoint of one who desires others to be informed. “
Theoretically these academic definitions may describe publicity, but actually do they encompass all its practices? Cynics assert that publicity is what publicity men do, and by publicity men they mean press agents, publicity directors, public relations counsel, vice-presidents in charge of public relations, and anyone else-no matter what his title-who engages in publicity, Debunkers aver that publicity–or ” publicity”–men often work harder to suppress information than to disseminate it. They say too that publicity men provide information that, though current and interesting, is not truthful and that instead is an assortment of hokum and hoaxes, Thus, it is suggested that publicity be defined as a specialized effort to influence public opinion and social behaviour by withholding facts and ideas that, if made public, would have an unfavourable effect and by presenting current, truthful and interesting information-or ballyhoo that passes for it-that will have an unfavourable effect.
Succinct though it may be, the definition that publicity is what publicity men do is neither adequate nor accurate. It would be jpst as reasonable to assert that news is what newspapermen print or that education is what teachers make it, Such statements have a certain appeal because there is some truth in them-but only some, and not all the truth. It is necessary to differentiate between publicity and publicity men, for what some publicity men may do cannot be dignified by the ten publicity, as William R. Slaughter has often said, Actually, as well as theoretically, the standard definitions cited-though they may have limitations– indicate clearly that publicity is news written from a specialized viewpoint for either a special or general public, That is, the publicity man’s job is to convince the public that his client’s “house is in order” –a task not too difficult if he can present reliable evidence.
Publicity and publicity men are here to stay. There’s no doubt about that. In fact there probably will be more rather than fewer of them because of the diversity of man’s interests and the multiplicity of his problems. Some of us may applaud them as champions of truth and crusaders for righteousness dedicated to transmission of truth which is socially significant and scientifically verifiable, Others may scorn them as myth-malers, shirt-stuffers, and space thieves whose flood of flapdoodle nauseates newspapermen in particular and the public in general, Neither viewpoint is tenable, for whatever justification there may be for either, both present a distorted picture of the publicity man who actually is just like other human beings who are trying to make a living, have a good time and do their part in society, They fumble and grope as little and as much as men and women in both journalistic and non journalistic occupations.
Proof that publicity is not always the troth, of course, is easily found in the history of this relatively modern phenomenon, Untruth, for that matter, is found in every medium of communication, News faking by the early press agents of circuses and medicine shows, fairs and expositions, was common-and profitable.
The publicity expert not only gives or withholds news, but he also acts as a buffer between his client and the public, In this capacity, he may prevent interviews or, if he allows them, coach his client in advance, sometimes limiting the scope and content of questions,
Publicity, like advertising, propaganda, or ever education, is neither good nor bad in itself, Publicity is good or bad according to the motives of those who disseminate it and the results that they achieve, It is stupid, therefore, to condemn all publicity matter indiscriminately or to publish it indiscriminately. Instead it should be subjected to the media’s own yardstick for determining news values, If it is news, it is not free advertising. And if it is news-not a commercial message intended to sell a specific commodity or service-It should appear in the news columns, not in space bought and paid for in a business transaction.