Ed Shiller is a communications guru with almost 40 years of print media and public relations experience in Canada, the United States and Europe.
As president of Ed Shiller Communications Inc. since 1985, he has lectured more than 3,000 men and women from a wide spectrum of occupations at public media relations workshops and in-house seminars.
From the Auditors General of Canada and Ontario, to the Toronto Stock Exchange, to the Girl Guides of Canada, to the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, to A&M Records etc.
Representatives of government, big business and the community, all wanting to understand the fine details of how to approach the media with story requests and press releases.
He also advises them on how to "give media interviews that are relevant, truthful and responsive to what the reporter asked."
Shiller knows what he speaks. He was an editor at the New York Times News service, Copenhagen stringer for the New York Times, Newsweek and others, editor/newscaster on Radio Denmark in Copenhagen, a reporter for Reuters, the Baltimore Sun and the Toronto Star. At the Star, he was a city hall and business reporter, assistant city editor, editorial writer, deputy editorial page editor.
The vibrant conversationalist is big on ethics and it showed during his early 1980s corporate press relations stints at Falconbridge, Kidd Creek Mines and the Canadian Manufacturer's Association.
In a nutshell, Shiller asks who is going to get better press, someone who is deceptive and manipulative or someone who is credible and responsive to any and all questions?
Which brings us to ethics, the new media and press releases.
Shiller says while the Internet has escalated the flow of information, he is concerned about traditional media adopting new media ways without scrutiny.
A case in point.
The online edition of Sun Media's Sault Ste. Marie This Week recently posted, verbatim, a Communications Workers of America Canada press release in story form detailing CWA's results of a survey on the decline in newspaper readers.
Doug Millroy, editor emeritus at Sun Media's Sault Ste. Marie Star, later wrote a column about the survey and noted how mid-size and smaller newspapers are beginning to adopt new media habits, including the use of news releases untouched.
"The luxury days of every such release going to a reporter for rewrite are gone," said Millroy. "They should simply be edited to the required length to tell the story, a reporter being involved only if reaction is required.
"This would put newspaper newsrooms on a level footing with the Internet sites in regard to release of the information and also would allow for a quick follow-up in the print edition, rather than the spread of several days as on occasion is the case."
Millroy, in the news business for 54 years and a die hard print man, was describing some of the changes in journalism when he noted Today.com reproduces news releases untouched.
However, Shiller says automatic publication of news releases is a sad day for journalism and democracy.
"A free press means journalists (reporters and editors) exercise independent judgment," says Shiller.
He says while unedited cut-and-paste press releases via the Internet may be expedient, not all press releases are created equal.
"Accuracy and balance are everything," says Shiller. "A press release may honestly reflect the message the client wishes to convey, but it does, after all, represent only the client’s side of the story.
"Not allowing reporters the opportunity to make calls to expand or elaborate on press releases and printing them as though they were news stories, misleads the readers into believing that a journalist has critically, independently and objectively reviewed the material."
We have to side with Shiller. Posting the CWA press release verbatim was, in itself, unusual. But the content of the "story" in a Sun Media newspaper was also blatantly critical of Quebecor.
It should have, at the least, been rewritten and edited for bias.