Monday, August 17, 2009

Lovins Leaves Little Shop of Horrors

The Little Shop of Horrors

Public relations is the world’s second oldest profession, and it came into existence to serve the first. The public doesn’t know it, but public relations has been around for thousands of years. The reason the public doesn’t know that public relations has been around a long time is that the name has changed. It used to be called lying, but they made a profession out of it and called it public relations. Presumably, it’s possible to succeed at public relations and not be dishonest, unethical and unscrupulous, and to be a complete liar, cheat and a scoundrel, but it is probably much harder. The same may be said for being a reporter or managing editor for the Portsmouth Daily Times, where reporters and editors are really poorly paid PR people whose job is protect and polish the image of the rich white trash who control the city. Maybe some ex-reporter or managing editor will write a memoir someday, of the hell it was to work for the PDT, for practically nothing, all the while being held in contempt by those who refused to buy the newspaper.
The hardest thing is to change something bad for the better. Changing the name of something bad is the favorite trick of public relations. When something gets a reputation that is so bad that it is not worth defending, public relations doesn’t try to change it, it just renames it. It is much easier to change a product’s, or a service’s, or a person’s name or title than it is to change the product, the service, or the person. It’s much easier to change the way a thing appears than to change what it is. The easiest way to change perceptions is through deceptions. If an institution had to choose between flush toilets and public relations, they would choose public relations because shit may happen but that’s what you have a public relations department for—to turn shit into gold. These days, instead of changing names, public relations specialists are into changing brands; rather than renaming, they are into “rebranding.”
Any produce manager can tell you that what sells fruit is not the way fruit tastes after you buy it but the way it looks before you buy it. If you have the best tasting fruit in the world, it will not sell if it looks bad. The whole fruit business seems geared to growing better looking, not better tasting, fruit. Taking a lesson learned from Hollywood PR, breeding for appearance rather than taste has produced the most voluptuous looking and lousiest tasting hothouse tomatoes under the sunlamp. If the claims sound and the tomatoes look too good to be true, they probably are. That’s because that’s the rule with almost everything, not just fruit. It’s true with teeth whiteners and automobiles. The Volvo station wagon may have been one of the most reliable indestructible clunkers in the world, but nobody wanted to be seen driving one, except maybe Lurch, the butler in the Adams family.
Eventually, the reputation of public relations itself got so bad that it had to change its name. It has come up with a number of euphemisms for itself, usually with the words “communications” and “marketing” somewhere in the new name. Public relations is so pervasive that most organizations are much more devoted to image control than quality control, and because of public relations’ chameleon ability to change not only its name but also its own image, many employees in an organization are not aware that what their job basically amounts to is public relations. Anyone naïve enough to believe that what he or she is suppose to do is make changes for the better constitutes a menace to an organization. Saying the right thing, not doing the right thing, looking the part, not playing the part, is the first commandment in the religion of making it in America, and nobody follows that commandment more faithfully than your public relations specialist. Because of its incestuous culture of dependency and its toleration of incompetence, Portsmouth is particularly in need of and susceptible to public relations.
Lovins' Farewell Address
This peroration on Public Relations was prompted by the recent Farewell Address of the Managing Editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times, the former “Marketing Communication Specialist,” at Southern Ohio Medical Center. Why Jason Lovins left SOMC in the first place is hard to explain, because billboards and ads on radio and TV hail the local hospital as one of best employers in Ohio to work for, as based on a survey of those very same employees. Or is that just more PR malarkey? Why Lovins would voluntarily leave one of the most popular places in Ohio to work to become the low-paid managing editor on the sinking Portsmouth Daily Times is not easy to understand. Did his leaving SOMC have anything to do with that business over the resignation of the Friends of SOMC? That was a public relations mess, which he as SOMC’s Marketeing Communication Specialist must have had some responsibility for.
Anyway, it appears Lovins the PR specialist has either lost or been fired from another PR job. It was Frank Lewis, reporting on the messy resignation of the board of directors of Friends of the SOMC, in 2006, who identified Lovins as the “Marketing Communication Specialist” at SOMC, which may or may not have been his official title. Lewis is not necessarily any more of a fact checker at getting people’s titles straight than he is on quotations by Abraham Lincoln. In his short nine months as Managing Editor of the PDT, Lovins has shamelessly repeated the Chamber of Commerce-SOGP PR line that Portsmouth is a great city and getting better all the time, with a lot of incredibly giving and wonderfully caring people, except for that malicious vocal minority that is always trying to tear the city down. Recently the Times ran a story about a man I don't know but mistakenly used the photo of a gentleman I do know. Of course that is nothing compared to what happens to a patient who goes into a hospital for an appendectomy and comes out of the operating room with the appendix but without a leg. That kind of thing takes a whole lot of public relationing to make up for.
The title of Lovins’ swan song in the PDT is “It Really Has Been a Short Nine Months,” in which he was speaking only for himself of course. It was a very long nine months for some of us. On the basis of the puffery of himself and the Times reporters in which he indulges in his Farewell Address, maybe he should have called it “A Labor of Lovins.” No wonder he was such an unqualified success, since every reporter he worked with at the PDT was so “remarkably talented, hard-working,” etc., and were “experienced journalists providing quality every day.” Well, maybe not every day, because Lovins fails to point out that during his short nine months the incredibly shrinking PDT shrank further, not in size but in frequency, from a seven-day to a six-day-a-week newspaper. Why were those Times reporters so good, according to Lovins? “Largely because they either grew up or have lived a long time here and feel their roots dive very deep into our soil as well as our souls.” This is the kind of PR crap you get from a PR person who is trying his best to put a PR spin on what to outside observers looks like his losing his job. Lovins’ Farewell Address is his PR effort to turn his personal shit into gold. Never mind his reporters digging into our soil and souls. How about their digging into a story? In the story Frank Lewis wrote in July 13, 2006, about the resignation of the Friends of the SOMC, he typically gagged rather than dug. Hardly anybody to this day knows what the hell that was all about. When a major advertiser like the SOMC and bigwigs like Robert Dever are involved, a PDT reporter doesn’t do any digging and finding out things he would not be able to print anyway.
The Miracle Worker
Lovins claims in nine short months to have transformed the PDT, or at least the front page. He was severely limited by what he could print about Portsmouth on the front page because he had to follow the long established PDT policy that if the news wasn’t positive, it wasn’t fit to print. So the front page of the Times became during his short nine months a repository of human interest stories, as if we didn’t get enough human interest stories from Wayne Allen on the front page of the PDT’s sister Community Common. Hold the presses! “Portsmouth woman got her picture taken with Oprah Winfrey!” Rather than “diving very deep into our souls,” why didn’t PDT reporters in the last nine months dive very deep into the corruption, crime, drugs, and prostitution that plagues Portsmouth? Because if they did they would be out of a job pronto. All Jeff Barron had to do was mention that somebody who was arrested for drugs was an employee at Glockner’s and he was history.
Let’s try to find something positive in all this. Maybe there has been some improvement at the PDT. At least Lovins at the end of his short nine months did not suddenly disappear, without a word, becoming a non-person like the previous managing editor. Art Kuhn had done all he could to follow the PDT PR line, and look what it got him. And let’s keep in mind, also, that the Times reporters, in the process of digging into our souls, have not sold theirs forever but are only renting them temporarily, for subsistence wages. They will possibly have an opportunity, when they too are finally fired or the paper shrinks to nothing, to move on to some situation where they might regain their integrity and good name. And it is even possible that the “further education” Lovins cites as one of his reasons for leaving will be in some field other than public relations and that he will find some other way to make a living than lying for others.
In his initial introductory infamous editorial, “Election a Sign of Things to Come,” back on February 5, 2009, Lovins started out, in a disarming PR way, praising democracy but he closed by suggesting there may be too much of it in Portsmouth. “There comes a time,” he closed that editorial, “when the philosophy of Democracy has to give way to the pragmatic reality of fiscal management. This just may be that time.” To speak of ‘the reality of fiscal management’ in a city where Jim Kalb is mayor and Trent Williams auditor, and where current budget projections are for a $1.1 million deficit! What it’s time for is not for democracy to take a back seat to the budget but for Lovins, nine short months later, to leave the Little Shop of Horrors.