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Com professor speaks at Harvard

By Shatai Melvin
On April 17, 2013

 

Communication professor Michael Niman attended a conference at Harvard Law school on Saturday
April 13, entitled "Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law." The theme,
coined by Harvard Law professor Jon Hansen, focused on regulatory agencies and how the United
States government in particular regulates certain industries.
 
Niman was one of several noteworthy scholastic speakers, including Hansen, Noam Chomsky and John
Stauber.
 
Niman spoke about journalism in a public relations world.
 
"My main focus is... on migration of talent from the field of journalism to public relations," he said,
adding that it explores the different ways that public relations has come to dominate journalism in the
United States.
 
Public relations practitioners currently outnumber journalists 2-to-1, and they tend to be better paid and
have more resources.
 
"Newsrooms are being downsized. Reporters are given less time to write stories, less time to research
stories and fewer funds to work with," he said. "We're seeing a lot of migration of (journalists) into
public relations. The effect of this is essentially that public relations has come to dominate journalism."
 
As a result, students who graduate with journalism degrees are gradually seduced by the PR industry.
 
"What makes a good journalist is your talents, your skills," he said. "And...sometimes your contacts
would also make you a good public relations practitioner. So as you climb your professional ladder as a
journalist, you become more attractive to the public relations industry.
 
"Ultimately they offer you better money to defect to the dark side. So what my paper does is
examine this defection of journalism to the public relations industry, and it also looks at the death of
journalism."
 
Niman was excited to see and hear all the presenters, particularly Chomsky and Stauber.
 
"Chomsky is the most cited scholar ever in history," he said. "Nobody else has been cited by many
books, journal articles and many people and newspapers... He's pretty much universally recognized as
America's foremost intellectual."
 
Stauber wrote the textbook Niman uses for his Communication and Society class, entitled "Toxic
Sludge is Good for You."
 
"It's still one of the most read books on the subject of public relations," he said.
 
"Just to be there and hear what the others are saying is really exciting. I see it as the most interesting
conference examining public relations that I know of."
 
Some of his colleagues in the communication department are happy one of their own was selected to
lecture at a prestigious academic institution and conference with many noteworthy speakers.
 
"Personally, I think that this is a great honor that Niman deserves, based on his extensive work here and
elsewhere," said Marren, communication chair and associate professor.
 
"He is an impressive scholar and teacher - as witnessed by his Chancellor's Award last semester - and
I think the invitation speaks volumes about his work and is reflective of the quality of the department."
 
"It is a really great honor for Professor Niman and Buffalo State to be alongside Noam Chomsky,
Stuart Ewen, and Sut Jhally," said Meg Knowles, another associate professor. "They are giants in the
scholarship of consumer culture. It's a wonderful reflection on the communication department to have
our colleague speak in such esteem company."
 
Overall, Niman brings what he believes to be a different perspective to public relations.
 
"Actually working in journalism education, I can give a humanistic explanation as to why journalism
students defect to public relations, as well as the challenges journalism students face," he said.
 
Shatai Melvin can be reached at melvin.record@live.com.

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