It’s always a good day when I can practice both my professions and I had a rare weekend opportunity to do that today.
I spent part of the day attending a program dedicating the new Center for Global Public Relations at UNC Charlotte. Before the semester is out, I’ll be discussing PR for international publics with my Cases and Campaigns class. The Saturday program included some of the most dynamic people in PR education, so I decided to go hear some of the sessions.
Pictured below are Dr. Judy VanSlyke Turk (left), director of the School of Communication at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Dr. Doug Newsom, a professor of public relations at Texas Christian University.
Their topic was “Public Relations in the Pacific Rim” and it was pretty interesting stuff. It’s a part of the world where the practice of public relations is equally affected both by the most modern of technology and the most long-standing cultural norms.
Dr. Newsom described the phenomenon of “groundswell,” public opinion created and spread not by the news media, but by information that people get from each other, especially online. It’s a big factor in public relations in nations like South Korea, Japan and even, to some extent despite heavy state control of the Internet, China. But, as both professors noted, it’s hard to control the Internet.
And it’s difficult for public relations practitioners if they don’t become aware of a country’s culture. For example, the Japanese find American ad campaigns to be very aggressive and may similarly be put off by some of the more overt “pitches” of stories by PR practitioners. In addition, Newsom said, the Japanese don’t deal well with criticism, which complicates crisis communications efforts to deal with negative publicity.
Public relations in many of these Pacific Rim countries is in varying stages of development, from the well-established professional practices in India and Australia, to more emerging professional efforts in the Muslim nations of the region, Indonesia and Malaysia.
All very interesting, and so were the academics’ thoughts on the state of foreign language requirements in higher education today. (In 25 words or less, they’d like to see students leave college with at least a conversational knowledge of a foreign language — hard to get even in two years of instruction at many colleges.)
Several hours later, I made the short trip down to Belmont to cover the Queens-Belmont Abbey basketball game for the Charlotte Observer. As I’ve noted before, it’s been a long season for Queens (6-19), which lost 88-69, its fifth straight setback. Belmont Abbey (18-7) is on a roll, extending its winning streak to seven games. They’ve improved significantly over last season under first-year coach Stephen Miss.
The Belmont Abbey road trip is the only one I take during Queens’ conference season and part of its appeal is to my love of basketball history. The legendary Al McGuire (1928-2001) held his first head coaching job at Belmont Abbey from 1956 to 1963. Of course, McGuire became nationally known later as the men’s basketball coach at Marquette, where he led the Warriors to the NCAA Division I championship in 1977. After that he retired and spent the next two decades on TV, calling college basketball games with Dick Enberg and Billy Packer.
The son of an Irish immigrant who ran a New York City saloon, McGuire stocked his Belmont Abbey teams with players from New York. (One can just imagine the culture shock both ways.)
There’s a trophy case out in the lobby of the Wheeler Center, the on-campus arena, which displays McGuire-era memorabilia, including game programs and team photos. My favorite item is this photo, and the caption says that Crusaders fans gave McGuire popsicles to keep the fiery-tempered Irishman cool on the bench.
Inside the gym, there are big red plaques on the walls listing the all-time 1,000 point scorers and other career leaders in rebounding, assists and other categories. The plaque that memorializes the top three-point shooters in Belmont Abbey history is dedicated to a player who’s seventh on that list. His name was Jim Riches, another one of those New York players, and he hit over 100 three-pointers from 1989 to 1992.
After leaving the Abbey he went back home. The son of the New York City Fire Department’s deputy chief, he became a firefighter himself. He died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, a sobering reminder of how reality can impinge on the fantasy world that we make of sports sometimes.