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Subject: AEJ 05 RiecherB PR Sources and Synergies: News Media Discussion of Public Relations and Ethics
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 6 Feb 2006 14:45:43 -0500

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This paper was presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication in San Antonio, Texas August 2005.
         If you have questions about this paper, please contact the author
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(Feb 2006)
Thank you.
Elliott Parker

Sources and Synergies:
News Media Discussion of Public Relations and Ethics

Bonnie Parnell Riechert, Ph.D., APR
Assistant Professor
School of Advertising and Public Relations
College of Communication and Information
The University of Tennessee
476 Communications Building
Knoxville, TN  USA 37996-0343
(865) 974-5108
[log in to unmask]

For presentation at the annual convention of
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication,
San Antonio, Texas, August 2005
Sources and Synergies:
News Media Discussion of  Public Relations and Ethics

Abstract: News media discussion of public relations and ethics is 
investigated in a computer-assisted content analysis of articles 
mentioning both "public relations" and "ethics" in The New York Times 
from 1988-2004. Themes in coverage are identified. The Public 
Relations Society of America and its code of ethics are represented 
in the coverage, indicating some success in frame sponsorship. The 
phrase "public relations" is used in a variety of ways; implications 
for practitioners and educators are discussed.

Sources and Synergies:
News Media Discussion of Public Relations and Ethics

	Public relations practitioners and educators who seek to advance the 
professional status of public relations are concerned with ethical 
standards. After all, the criteria of any profession include 
specialized education, a body of knowledge, provision of a 
valued  service to society, emphasis on public service and social 
responsibility, and adherence to some "code of ethics and standards 
of performance though self-governing associations of colleagues" 
(Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000, p. 51).
Though public relations does not enjoy general acceptance as a 
profession, many individuals practicing public relations "qualify as 
professionals, on the basis of their commitment to meeting 
professional standards" (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000, p. 52). Public 
relations practitioners and educators may advance professionalism 
individually and collectively through professional associations. 
Professional associations provide mechanisms for continued education 
as well as establishment and promotion of ethical standards of practice.
This exploratory study proceeds from a media agenda-building 
perspective to examine how the news media have discussed publications 
and ethics, with particular attention to how the media have covered 
the leading public relations association and its long-standing code 
of ethics. Computer-assisted quantitative content analysis and 
qualitative analyses will examine the content of news media on these 
topics, addressing such issues as what themes are present, who frames 
this discussion, and how news values and other influences on content 
appear to operate.
News content may be viewed as the product of meaning negotiation by 
journalists, editors, and sources that they interview and quote in 
the new articles. In this way, influential news content is synergistic.
Literature Review and Background
Agenda-Setting and Framing
If advancement of ethical standards is important to public relations 
professionals, then news media discussion of public relations and 
ethics is equally relevant. This is due to the power of the mass 
media to influence popular thinking. As Cohen noted in his now 
"famous dictum about media effects" (McCombs & Ghanem, 2001, p. 69) 
the mass media are "stunningly successful" in telling us "what to 
think about" (1963, p. 13). The media agenda shapes, or helps shape, 
the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw referred to this as the 
"agenda-setting function of mass media" (1972). Since their 
widely-cited study, mass media scholars have given much attention to 
this function in media effects research.
A number of scholars are shifting focus from media effects to media 
content, realizing that if the mass media can tell us what to think 
abut, it is important to understand what influences the content of 
the news media. "A number of researchers who previously studied media 
effects—including ourselves—now find themselves asking why such 
effect-producing content exists to begin with" (Shoemaker and Reese, 
1996, p. 5).
Gans (1979) and Gitlin (1980) suggested content research can be 
organized into a handful of categories including influence by media 
workers' socialization and attitudes, media routines, other social 
institution and forces, and ideology of those in power. For five 
decades communication scholars have examined influences on media 
content by media workers, their employers, organizational structure, 
and society itself. Yet "there has been little attention paid to the 
theoretical links between them" (Shoemaker & Reese,1996, p. 5).
Shoemaker and Reese (1991, 1996) call for development of a 
comprehensive theory of media content. They offer a hierarchical 
model of influences on media content representing five levels: (1) 
the individual (journalist) level, (2) the media routines level, (3), 
the organization level, (4) the extramedia level, and (5) the 
ideological level.
The model is depicted by a series of five concentric circles 
representing the individual (journalist) level in the smallest, 
center circle and the ideological level in the largest circle. This 
is a useful way of categorizing and investigating influences on media 
content. News values--such as timeliness, prominence, and conflict 
represent--content influences at the media routines level. Content 
influences at the extramedia level include sources of information, 
other social institutions (business and government, for example), the 
economic environment, and technology. Media-targeted efforts by 
public relations practitioners and specific interest groups would be 
examples of content influences at the extramedia level.
Shoemaker and Reese call for more study of "the message itself as a 
dependent variable. We argue that the message, or media content, is 
influenced by a wide variety of factors both inside and outside media 
organizations" (1996, p. 11).
As Kennamer (1992, 1994) noted, "The news media are as much the 
target of agenda-setting as they are the source" (p. 9). Berkowitz 
(1992,1994) gives a compelling argument that media agenda-building is 
the preferred terminology for the concept of how the media agenda is 
formed. The concept "does not focus on agenda transferal as much as 
it does on agenda creation . . ." (p. 87).
As Dearing and Rogers have noted, "the position on the media agenda 
importantly determines that issue's salience on the public agenda" 
(1996, p. 92). Of 112 empirical studies of the agenda-setting process 
reviewed by them, 60 percent supported a media agenda-public agenda 
Who frames the coverage of public relations and ethics in the news 
media? And how do the news media report on this topic?
	Communication scholars have studied framing in news media coverage 
since Goffman (1974) and Bateson (1972) suggested the importance of 
how we organize experience and Tuchman (1978) applied a framing 
perspective to analysis of news production. Framing is considered the 
selective representation of something, concerned with what is 
included, excluded, and emphasized (Hallahan, 1999). The framing 
metaphor may be "understood as a window or portrait frame drawn 
around information that delimits the subject matter and, thus, 
focuses on key elements within" (Hallahan, 1999, p. 207).
	Entman argued that framing "essentially involves selection and 
salience. To frame is to select some aspects of perceived reality and 
make them more salient in the communicating text, in such a way as to 
promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral 
evaluation and/or treatment recommendation" (Entman, 1993, p. 55).
	The selective nature of framing makes it a "critical activity in the 
construction of social reality because it helps shape the 
perspectives through which people see the world" (Hallahan, 1999, p. 
207). Hallahan (1999) noted the importance of framing in public relations:
Implicitly, framing plays an integral role in public relations. If 
public relations is defined as the process of establishing and 
maintaining mutually beneficial relations between an organization and 
publics on whom it depends (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 1995), the 
establishment of common frames of reference about topics or issues of 
mutual concern is a necessary condition for effective relations to be 
established" (p. 207).

News framing studies over more than two decades have examined media 
coverage of a variety of issues, "although the role of public 
relations as sources in news framing has been largely overlooked" 
(Hallahan, 1999, p. 221).
One aspect of studying framing of news involves frame sponsorship 
(Gamson & Modigliani, 1989, Hallahan, 1999) or what Scheufele (1999) 
called frame building. This involves the success of competing 
stakeholders to define issues and ultimately influence public 
opinion, the media agenda, and the policy agenda. The concept of 
frame sponsorship suggests the question, who frames the news? Or, to 
whose views do the media give voice?
Entman argued that frames within text are manifest by the presence or 
absence of key words (Entman, 1993). Framing scholars have noted the 
need for more precise methods for studying frames in text, and 
computer-assisted content analysis methods have provided one means 
for doing this.
Public Relations Society of America
With a membership of 20,000 (or 28,000 if members of the student 
society also are counted) the Public Relations Society of America 
(PRSA) is "the world's largest organization for public relations 
professionals" (  The society is headquartered in New 
York City.  It is considered the leading association in the public 
relations industry (Fitzpatrick, 1996).
The evolution of the society's code of ethics is more than five 
decades in duration and impressive in its scope. PRSA was established 
in 1947 with the merger of the West Coast American Council on Public 
Relations and the East Coast National Association of Public Relations 
Counsel ( Some textbooks list the founding date as 1948.
Discussion on developing a guiding code must have begun immediately, 
for the organization adopted its first "Professional Standards for 
the Practice of Public Relations" on Dec. 4, 1950, not long after its 
establishment. The first code included five principles. Since then, 
the society revised its code seven times "to keep pace with industry 
practices and increased expectations for ethical performances" 
(Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 89). The current code was adopted in 2000 to 
"heighten awareness of ethical issues and address concerns regarding 
code enforcement" (Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 89).
Fitzpatrick (2002a) traces the evolution of the PRSA code of ethics, 
discussing the text of each generation and the revisions that 
occurred in 1954, 1959, 1963, 1977, 1983, 1988, and finally 2000. 
These historical changes are summarized in Table 1.
In the first revision on Oct. 15-16, 1954, PRSA approved a shorter 
revised code that included six principles and "read more like a 
pledge than its predecessor" (Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 91). At the time, 
society membership totaled 1,139.
Enforcement was emphasized in the 1959 code revision that included 
four principles and 16 articles. The 1959 code included four "shalls" 
and nine "shall nots." Under the code, members who had evidence of 
other members' conduct of "unethical, illegal, or unfair practices" 
were to report this to the society. PRSA bylaws were amended to 
establish a national judicial council to consider such cases. A 
nine-member grievance board was established in 1962. The board was 
renamed in 1983 to the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards 
(Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 96).
A 1963 code revision strengthened "the prohibition on conflicts of 
interest" and addressed "growing concerns about the use of front 
groups" (Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 96).
Several changes were included in the 1977 code revision when PRSA 
membership stood at 8,337. Among the revisions was the removal of 
sexist language. Paragraphs that were criticized by the FTC as 
restraining competition and price fixing were removed. A new 
provision barred members from guaranteeing achievement of results 
beyond their immediate control. And references to "the importance of 
constitutional and human rights" were added (Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 98).
Revisions in 1983 clarified language and format. In 1988 revisions 
included several noteworthy additions such as obligations of members 
to both the client or employer and the democratic process. The first 
of 17 articles stated, "A member shall conduct his or her 
professional life in accord with the public interest." Official 
interpretations were written to explain the intent of articles such 
as, "A member shall not engage in any practice which has the purpose 
of corrupting the integrity of channels of communication or the 
processes of government."
Over time, the PRSA enforcement system was criticized for being 
ineffective. The PRSA Grievance Board had no jurisdiction over 
nonmembers of the society, for one thing. Members were critical of 
code enforcement yet reluctant to get involved.
A strategic plan for PRSA introduced in 1993 called for PRSA to 
become "the standard bearer or ethical business practice" by 2000 
(Warner, 1993, 2-3). An Ethic Summit was held in 1999 with the PRSA 
Board of Directors meeting with members of the Ethics Board. The 
board approved development of a new code. After much thoughtful 
development, PRSA adopted the new 2000 Member Code of Ethics on Oct. 
21, 2000, at its annual meeting. Notably, the new code "was designed 
to be aspirational and educational, such that provisions were 
replaced with positive, affirmation obligations." The code 
"emphasized the need for 'responsible advocacy,' stressing loyalty to 
clients and employers" and also emphasizing "the importance of 
professional competence" (Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 109).
The new code includes six values (advocacy, honesty, expertise, 
independence, loyalty, and fairness) and six code provisions dealing 
with free flow of information, competition, disclosure of 
information, safeguarding confidences, conflicts of interest, and 
enhancing the profession ( As the new code was approved 
and adopted, the association urged the selection of an ethics officer 
(a liaison/resource person) in each local chapter. A six-step 
decision-making guide was widely published.
Research Questions
	Based on the media agenda-building and framing perspectives outlined 
above, and given that professional public relations practitioners and 
educators are interested in ethics, the following research questions are posed:
RQ 1:	What can we learn about news media discussion of public 
relations and ethics – with particular attention to discussion 
related to the leading association in public relations, the Public 
Relations Society of America, and its code of ethics?  	

RQ 2: What can this tell us about influences on news media content?

	An alternative way to ask Research Question 1 would be, how do the 
news media frame discussion about public relations and ethics? In 
addressing this question, trends in media coverage can be explored to 
determine whether coverage increased, decreased, or stayed relatively 
the same over time. Coverage can be examined for identification of 
most prominent themes, as well as for explicit (unattributed to 
sources) messages about public relations and for evidence of 
effective frame sponsorship by PRSA.
Methods and Results
	This study employed computer-assisted quantitative content analysis 
of a sizable set of news media articles, as well as qualitative, case 
study content analysis of a small subset of the articles, to address 
the Research Questions posed above. The New York Times was selected 
for the analysis because it is a widely-read newspaper and is 
considered a leader in setting the media agenda for national issues. 
The paper has circulation of more than 1.1 million on weekdays and 
1.7 million on Sundays, the highest circulation of any seven-day 
newspaper. According to Dearing and Rogers, "When the Times considers 
an issue newsworthy, other U.S. media are influenced to follow suit" 
(1996, p. 20). The New York Times "is generally regarded as the most 
respected U.S. news medium" (Dearing and Rogers, 1996, p. 32).
	The methods and results of the analysis are discussed here. 
Full-text articles about public relations and ethics in The New York 
Times were obtained from the Dialog database. The search strategy 
specified articles that mentioned "public relations" (or "pr") and 
"ethics." (The command asked for "public," within one word of 
"relations," or "pr," and "ethic?", which would include "ethic," 
"ethics," "ethical," and "ethically.") The time period 1988-2004 was 
selected in order to examine content and changes in coverage over a 
17-year period that includes two revisions of the PRSA Code of Ethics.
	The search procedure yielded an initial set of 626 articles 
mentioning "public relations" or "pr" and "ethics." The set of 
articles included news articles, a few letters to the editor, a 
handful of obituaries, and several weddings (held at a local ethical 
society and involving people with "public relations" in their job 
title). Wedding articles were removed. Letters to the editor included 
at least one from a national leader in the Public Relations Society 
of America; these were retained in the data set. The handful of 
obituary articles also were retained and included a death notice 
about Rex Harlow who died at age 100 in 1993 and who helped establish 
the Public Relations Society of America in the late 1940s. The 
remaining 618 articles formed the data set used in the subsequent analysis.
	Articles in the data set were coded by year of publication, and 
frequencies were compared by year. The frequency of articles by year 
ranged from 25 in 1999 to 47 in 1994. Table 2 shows the frequency 
distribution of the 618 articles by year. The frequency distribution 
indicates neither a dramatic increase nor decrease over the past 17 years.
Computer-assisted content analysis was employed to assess themes 
represented in this text and to explore the content of the media 
coverage. The computer program VBPro, developed by M. Mark Miller for 
analysis of verbatim text and available at no charge on the World 
Wide Web (, was used for the analysis. 
Text preparation for the analysis included collecting all the 
articles into a single electronic file, adding a case identification 
number to each article, and bracketing off (in order to exclude from 
analysis) extraneous heading material and captions.
The alphabetizing and ranking procedures of the VBPro program were 
used to create precise reports on all words in the data set, listed 
both alphabetically and by frequency, with frequency specified in both reports.
	The VBPro alphabetizing procedures yielded an 860-page document 
listing all the nearly 40,000 words used in the data set, in 
alphabetical order from "Aaron" (5 occurrences) to "Zywotow," a last 
name (3 occurrences). This is a convenient reference when the 
frequency of particular words are of interest. The program's ranking 
procedures yielded another large text file listing all the words in 
the data set in order of frequency of occurrence. This is a quick way 
to ascertain at-a-glance which words occur most often in the large 
volume of text. The first several pages of the frequency file were 
studied for substantive (that is, meaningful) words of interest that 
occurred most frequently (articles such as "a" and "the" occur 
frequently, but are not of interest in analyses such as this). Themes 
are manifest by the frequent occurrence of related terms.	
Seven prominent themes identified in this way are listed in Table 3. 
In order of prominence, these are referred to as Business, National 
Government, Medical Research, Media, Legal, Issues, and Financial. 
Each theme is represented by the frequent occurrence of related words 
in the text. The individual terms and their frequencies are also 
listed in the table. The "business" theme is represented by the terms 
company, business, companies, industry, corporate, employees, 
community, corporation, manager, workers, leaders, managers, 
organizations, leadership, marketing, customers, reputation, 
consumers, and consumer. These terms appear a total of 7,129 times in 
the text.	
The "national government" theme is represented by the terms 
president, political, campaign, government, national, federal, and 
administration, in a total of 5,052 occurrences.
	The "medical research" theme is represented by the terms university, 
school, research, health, students, medical, professor, college, 
educational, treatment, scientists, and experiments, in a total of 
4,015 occurrences.
	The "media" theme is represented by the terms press, information, 
report, television, advertising, media, reporters, editor, reports, 
published, newspaper, reporter, journalists, reported, and 
journalism, in a total of 3,412 occurrences.
	The "legal" theme is represented by the terms law, lawyers, court, 
attorney, justice, action, crime, moral, prosecutors, documents, and 
laws, in a total of 2,920 occurrences.
	The "issues" theme is represented by the terms issues, issue, 
problems, investigation, charges, critics, scandal, and trouble, in a 
total of 2,469 occurrences.
	The "financial" theme is represented by the terms money, financial, 
fund, investment, funds, investors, spending, and securities, in a 
total of 2,144 occurrences.
	 Miller and Riechert (2001) describe multidimensional scaling 
analysis and hierarchical cluster analysis methods for theme and 
frame identification, but these methods were not employed due to 
ambiguities determined in the text, as described in subsequent sections.
Explicit Statements
To examine what kinds of explicit messages about public relations are 
contained in these news articles, tagging search files for the terms 
"public relations" and "ethics" were created and submitted to the 
VBPro search procedures. The resulting reports list, by case (news 
article), each sentence in the data set that included the specified 
terms and note the terms with arrows on either side. The report files 
were opened and studied. The sentences can be easily isolated and 
perused since the VBPro tagging search function can produce a 
document containing only these sentences (along with the case numbers 
and the search summary). This capability of computer-assisted content 
analysis can been compared to finding "a few needles in very large 
haystacks" (Stevenson, 2001, p. 5). Documents produced in this way 
may be studied for such things as sources quoted and explicit 
statements, both unattributed and attributed.
The computer-assisted search procedures identified 862 occurrences of 
"public relations" in 839 sentences and 1,143 occurrences of "ethic*" 
("ethics," "ethical," "ethically," "unethical," or "unethically") in 
1,888 sentences within the 50,000 sentences in the data set. The 
sentences were tagged and copied into separate text files that are 
convenient to read. The 91-page report isolating the sentences 
mentioning "public relations" was studied.
This review suggested a very small number of examples where content influence
at the individual (journalist) level appears blatantly apparent:
It has the qualities of classic public relations and 
litigation—avoidance statements, the passive voice, the action plans, 
the factual quibbling and the distinctly conditional acceptance of 
responsibility (from a 2002 article).

Arguments sound much better when made by groups with no financial 
stake in an issue, public relations people have found.  . . . While 
public relations may serve some legitimate informational purposes, is 
prizes deceptiveness, too (from a 1994 article).
An unexpected finding—to this naive author, at least—was the fact 
that a large number of the articles mentioning "public relations" and 
"ethics" were not centrally focused on public relations. Rather, many 
articles in this data set mentioned "public relations"—in attributed 
and unattributed statements—marginally and only once.
	Finally, analysis was narrowed from sentences to mere mentions of 
the phrase "public relations"—looking at how the phrase was used 
within sentences. A review of the tagged search report described 
above suggested the phrase was used in dramatically different ways in 
this set of text. The most obvious way was in reference to public 
relations itself, the phrase used as a collective noun. An example 
from an article in 2004 would be, "What we see with the guilty 
verdict in the Martha Stewart trial is that the worst possible public 
relations a business can have is getting caught in unethical 
conduct." In this text, out of more than 800 occurrences of "public 
relations," more than 200 occurrences are as nouns.
	The remaining 600+ occurrences are as modifiers to a number of 
terms, many of which refer to public relations organizations and 
their activities and personnel. Multiple references were found to 
public relations firm, business, department, outfit, subsidiary, and 
so on. People are referred to as public relations numerous references 
to public relations consultant, adviser, specialist, vice president, 
expert, representative, man, woman, people, professional, team, 
official, practitioners, executive, manager, giant, guru, bigwig, 
writer, folk, handler, and so on. References also are found to public 
relations budgets, strategy, campaign, programs, profession, and so 
on. These kinds of references would be expected.
However, many times "public relations" occurred as a modifier 
preceding a variety of quite diverse terms including nightmare, wars, 
setback, coup, debacle, battle, triumph, misstep, backlash, 
firestorm, blitz, boondoggle, exercise, bounce, disaster, games, 
offensive, counteroffensive, gimmick, problems, fiasco, reasons, 
overhaul, blather, mode, dilemma, snafu, gaffe, extravaganza, black 
eye, stunt, flack, big wig, giant, smoke, strike, gesture, paradise, 
and honeymoon. These instances serve as convincing reminders that for 
many journalists and others, the popular meaning of public relations 
is something less than ones used by professional public relations 
practitioners and educators.
	For example, a widely-accepted definition in the body of knowledge 
describes public relations as "the management function that 
establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between 
an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure 
depends" (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2000, p. 6). Dozier, Grunig, and 
Grunig refer to this as a "popular definition of public relations and 
communication management" (1995, p. 71). This definition is favored 
because it encompasses an organization's ethical actions (what it 
does) as well as what the organization communicates (what it says). 
Yet the phrase "public relations" is used throughout articles in this 
data set to refer to both the relationship-related activities of 
organizations and also as a phrase meaning something like public 
opinion (as in the examples listed in the previous paragraph).
This situation carries methodological implications for communication 
scholars who like to apply quantitative computer-assisted content 
analysis methods to investigate competing themes and frames in text. 
An advantage of computer-assisted content analysis is its ability to 
precisely measure distinct themes in a large set of text, based on 
the presence of key words. However, for such an analysis to provide 
meaningful results, it must be based on terms that are unambiguous. 
In the case of news media discussion of "public relations," the 
phrase is used in so many ways that plans for some types of analysis 
usually possible with computer-assisted content analysis were 
abandoned. Researchers have reported on multidimensional scaling 
techniques that were useful in identifying themes and frames in news 
media coverage on topics such as wetlands, pesticides, and breast 
cancer, all topics of unambiguous meaning. Such analysis was not 
performed in this study, however, after it was determined that the 
data set discussed "public relations" in such an astounding variety 
of ways. Practical implications of these findings for practitioners 
and educators are discussed in the final section of this paper.
Frame Sponsorship
A more qualitative, case study approach was adopted to look in some 
detail at a subset of the articles in this data set, those that 
mentioned the Public Relations Society of America. These articles 
were identified by using the VBPro search function to create a 
tagging search file, using the search phrase, "Public Relations 
Society of America." The procedure created a tagged search file 
listing all the articles, from the 618 in the data set (1988-2004 New 
York Times articles mentioning "public relations" and "ethics") that 
mentioned "Public Relations Society of America."
The result was a set of six articles, mentioning the society one or 
more times, dating from April 1989 to April 2003. These were examined 
individually to assess what conclusions related to influences on 
their content might be drawn. Descriptions of each of the articles 
follow, then discussion of them as a group.
An April 13, 1989 article headlined "Washington Talk; Taking Heat 
When the Boss is Under Fire" discusses several cases of challenges 
and frustrations of serving as official spokesperson to controversial 
public figures. Quoted as exemplars in the by-lined 18-paragraph, 
881-word article are Mark R. Johnson, press secretary for Speaker Jim 
Wright and former spokesperson for a "beleaguered chairman of the 
Texas Air Corporation"; Patrick Korten, who represented then Attorney 
General Edward Meese 3rd; Lance Morgan, who earlier had been 
spokesperson for the special Senate committee investigating the 
Iran-contra scandal and who was then "part of the public relations 
team defending Michael R. Milken" who was charged with racketeering.
John L. Paluszek, then president of the Public Relations Society of 
America, is quoted in comment on representing public officials caught 
in a scandal:  " It's always in your best interest to get the matter 
out and behind you as quickly as possible. The way to do that is not 
to stonewall but to be forthcoming without violating confidences."
A Nov. 4, 1991 page one business digest includes this brief item, 
followed by the page number for the article: "Ethics is the subject 
of the annual meeting of the Public Relations Society of America."
The referenced Nov. 4, 1991 article is headlined "The Media Business: 
Advertising; Public Relations Conference is Devoted to Ethical 
Topics." The first paragraph refers to the society as well as its 
president: "Asked if it were not paradoxical for the annual meeting 
of the Public Relations Society of America to be devoted to ethics, 
the organization's president offered a response worthy of his profession."
The response of then PRSA president Joe S. Epley follows: "Some 
people could be cynical about it; some people are cynical about the 
news media and reporters, too." The 13-paragraph, 511-word article 
quotes Epley once again ("individuals always have to make value 
judgments"), as well as three other PRSA conference presenters and organizers.
The article mentions that the 44th national conference, with the 
theme of "What's Right? Confronting the Ethical Choices that Confront 
You," was in progress.
An April 25, 1993 obituary biography is headlined "Rex F. Harlow, 
100, A Pioneer in Publicity." The first paragraph describes him as "a 
leader in public relations who helped raise its professional 
standards," and reports his death at age 100 on April 16.
The second of seven paragraphs states he "advocated social 
responsibility, including a code of ethics, and promoted the use of 
sociological and psychological research." The 242-word biography 
describes his role in founding the Public Relations Society of 
America (with the merging of two existing associations) and serving 
as a director of the society. His role in editing and writing public 
relations journals and books also is described.
An April 10, 1994 letter to the editor is signed Joseph A. Vecchione, 
followed by the statement, "The writer is president of the Public 
Relations Society of America." The three-paragraph, 193-word letter 
begins, "We strongly endorse the warning to journalists to guard 
again communications abuses. The credibility of our profession and 
our 15,000 members rests on openness, integrity of fact and upfront 
declarations of representation. Anything less is unacceptable."
In the final paragraph Vecchione writes, "We are naturally concerned 
about those who are not members of our professional society and 
obviously don't buy into the standards the rest of us respect."
An April 1, 2003 article is headlined, "The Media Business: 
Advertising; P.R. firms alter their tone and worry about coverage as 
most eyes are on Iraq." The 18-paragraph, 818-word article suggests 
that as war was dominating the news, public relations professionals 
were depending less on media relations and more on "employee 
communications, investor relations and other tools that are not 
dependent on reporters."
The by-lined article quotes six people including (in this order) an 
editor at PR Week; executives for the Hallmark Channel, United 
Parcel, and the Chicago office of Edelman; Reed Byrum Bolton, then 
president and chief executive of PRSA; and an executive at the New 
York office of Edelman. Bolton is cited in three paragraphs 
describing public relations as more than media relations and 
including a full spectrum "from investor relations to employee 
communications to strategic planning and platforming of an organization."
He is given indirect attribution in urging avoidance of exploitation 
of conflict, and he is again quoted directly, "At the public 
relations society, we really stress ethical communications. This is a 
really good time for ethical communications."
As these descriptions show, the ethical standards of the society are 
referenced numerous times in these articles, primarily by leaders in 
the society. None of these articles describe revisions in the PRSA 
Code of Ethics, though the time period in this study, 1988-2004, 
includes the two most recent code revisions in 1988 and 2000. 
National leaders of the society have managed to get the ethical code 
discussed occasionally in the national media, sometimes by writing 
letters to the editor that are published, and sometimes by talking 
about the code when they are interviewed by journalists.
Limitations of Research
	Dearing and Rogers suggest that studies relating to "how an issue is 
framed, by whom, and with what regularity?" (1996, p. 95) are needed 
in further studies of the agenda-setting process, which includes the 
media agenda, the public agenda, and the policy agenda. This study 
looks only at the media agenda—specifically how public relations and 
ethics are discussed in the national media.
	This study looks at discussion of these topics only in The New York 
Times. Further analysis on coverage in other leading newspapers would 
be useful.	
The influence, at the media routines level, of news values on the 
content of this set of stories is notable. The role of the news value 
of timeliness is apparent in the articles on PRSA's annual 
conference, the death of a public relations pioneer, and the effect 
of the war on Iraq on available news space ("news hole"). Even more 
apparent is the striking role of the news value of prominence in most 
of these articles in which the president of PRSA is given voice in 
the media and makes statements in representation of the society and 
also the profession.
Organizations such as PRSA may be more or less successful in getting 
a position on an issue heard in the media. Hallahan (1999) and others 
have referred to this as frame sponsorship. In the smaller set of 
articles reviewed above, PRSA achieved frame sponsorship in getting 
its position published in the media. It is not clear from the 
analysis conducted here whether some of these instances resulted from 
some initiation by a PRSA leader or whether the society officer was 
contacted by a journalist. Either way, in many of these articles the 
president of PRSA is quoted directly and indirectly in comment on 
important ethical issues and professional standards.
The variety of meanings implied when "public relations" is mentioned 
suggests that popular language usage includes numerous definitions of 
public relations. Professional public relations practitioners who 
adhere to the PRSA code of ethics understand "public relations" as a 
strategic process involving research, research-based planning, 
implementation, and evaluation and as involving an organization's 
actions as well as its communications. Yet the phrase "public 
relations" is popularly used as a convenient modifier for almost 
anything involving public opinion. News media coverage includes 
routine usage of the phrase in both ways.
	One conclusion that might be drawn from this observation is that 
professional public relations practitioners who so carefully adhere 
to the PRSA code of ethics may not be communicating much when they 
talk with others about simply "public relations." It might be more 
effective, for example, to speak about "strategic public relations," 
"effective public relations," or "ethically defensible public relations."
	The importance of ethical conduct by businesses and the need for 
emphasis of ethics in public relations education are described by 
Bovet (1993), Thompson (1996), Solomon and Hanson (1989), Fitzpatrick 
(1996), Kruckeberg (2000), Seib & Fitzpatrick, 1995), and Toth, 1999).	
Professional public relations practitioners may take advantage of 
each opportunity to talk with journalists as a chance to discuss the 
leading association's code of ethics. Every interview by a journalist 
is a chance to engage in frame sponsorship.


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Table 1. Milestones in adoption and revisions of the Public 
Relations Society of America
Code of Ethics.
1950	PRSA adopts first "Professional Standards for the Practice of 
Public Relations"

1954	Revised code is approved

1959	Revised code includes four principles and 16 articles

1963	Revised code emphasizes prohibition of conflicts of interest and 
use of front groups

1977	Revised code removes sexist language, bars members from 
guaranteeing results beyond their control

1983	Revised code clarifies language and format

1988	Revised 17-article code adds obligation of members to both the 
client/employer and the democratic process.

2000	Revised Member Code of Ethics includes six core values and six 
code provisions
Abstracted from information in Fitzpatrick, 2002a, 89-100.
Table 2. Frequency of distribution by year of 618 New York Times 
articles (1988-2004)
  mentioning "public relations" and "ethics"

1988	40
1989	39
1990	34
1991	38
1992	37
1993	37
1994	47
1995	41
1996	25
1997	39
1998	29
1999	25
2000	43
2001	38
2002	46
2003	30
2004	30

Table 3. Prominent themes identified in 618 New York Times articles 
(1988-2004) mentioning "public relations" and "ethics"
Theme				Terms			Frequency	           Total by theme
"Business"										7,129
Company		1,563
Business			1,116
Companies		794
Industry			596
Corporate		440
Employees		289
Community		253
Corporation		231
Marketing		219
Manager			217
Workers			214
Leaders			196
Managers		165
Organizations		164
Leadership		150
Customers		143
Reputation		142
Consumers		122
Consumer		115

"National Government"									5,052
				President		1,461
				Political			765
				Campaign		758
				Government		721
				National			533
				Federal			493
				Administration		321

"Medical Research"									4,015
				University		714
				School			701
				Research		438
				Health			521
				Students			381
				Medical			346
				Professor		304
				College			296
				Education		238
				Treatment		175
				Scientists		101
				Experiments		100
Table 3, continued
Theme				Terms			Frequency                 Total by Theme

  "Media"										3,413
				Press			431
				Information		372
				Report			352
				Television		334
				Advertising		306
				Media			290
				Reporters		236
				Editor			183
				Reports			178
				Published		144
				Newspaper		136
				Reporter			119
				Journalists		114
				Reported		111
				Journalism		107

"Legal"									     		2,920
				Law			654
				Lawyers			504
				Court			411
				Attorney			259
				Justice			255
				Action			195
				Crime			179
				Moral			170
				Prosecutors		138
				Documents		131
				Laws			124

"Issues"											2,469
				Issues			408
				Issue			403
				Problems		314
				Problem			307
				Investigation		287
				Charges			238
				Critics			210
				Scandal			192
				Trouble			110

"Money"										2,144
				Money			798
				Financial		444
				Fund			416
				Investment		202
				Funds			185
				Investors		143
				Spending		129
				Securities		127

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