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Beyond Spin: The Power of Strategic Corporate Journalism.

by Markos Kounalakis, Drew Banks and Kim Daus

Jossey-Bass, U.S.$27.00

In an era when mega-merger media companies are pushing traditional journalism toward the tabloid toilet, the authors of "Beyond Spin" argue that organizational communicators "must go in the opposite direction: away from sensationalism, hype and propaganda, which are no longer acceptable to knowledge-rich employees." Furthermore, they write, "to be effective in today's corporate environment, communication must be accurate, timely and strategically weighted." That is the essence of what they mean by strategic corporate journalism.

What a concept. Treat employees as if they are skeptical, thinking humans and give them "the straight dope," as Hemingway might say. Just the sketchiest outline of this argument elicited an appreciative gasp at a recent gathering of San Francisco IABC chapter leaders. "Beyond Spin" is sure to strike a similar responsive chord among other organizational communicators.

In truth, the idea of bringing journalistic values and practices into organizational communication is not new. Journalists frequently follow the dollars into the corporate world. But these transplants have rarely been afforded the access and independence that are essential to achieving reportorial accuracy, which, as the authors point out, is the hallmark of traditional journalism and distinguishes it from propaganda.

According to Kounalakis, Banks and Daus -- who worked together at SGI (formerly Silicon Graphics, Inc.) during that company's s meteoric rise, subsequent collapse and incipient comeback -- converging trends will soon force companies to adopt new communication models. Chief among these trends are "the dominance of the knowledge work force, democratization of the work place, diversification of the organization, the challenges of the information age, and the overwhelming increase in the pace of change." The authors discuss these trends and the challenges they present to old communication models in their provocative first chapter.

They devote their second chapter to a detailed examination of the elements of an organizational communication strategy. Here they intelligently discuss issues of content, style and distribution that must be considered in conjunction with the "organizational landscape" for the strategy to achieve "positive organizational alignment and action," which, in their book, is the point of organizational communication. In chapter three they perform a similar analysis of journalism, examining the values, elements and challenges of traditional journalistic practices.

They bring these threads together in chapter four, the heart of "Beyond Spin." This chapter sparkles with unexpected insights and asides as the authors attempt to "translate the journalistic principles and practices outlined in the previous chapter to their practical applicability for knowledge-based organizations." Discussing the issue of accuracy, for example, they argue that there is a real cost to organizations for inaccurate reporting to key audiences. They point out that accuracy is fostered by the accountability of bylines. And then they note:

"A look at the majority of corporate web sites reveals news and information that has no authorship. This allows the corporate party line to be processed and pasteurized until all the flavor and nutrition have been extracted and its provenance is indeterminable. Lack of accountability has proliferated and promoted the faceless, nameless bureaucratic 'they' who are to blame for all the world's ills, for government's abuses, and for management's cheerlessness."

Is that good, or what?

Kounalakis, Banks and Daus's credibility is built not only on the fact that they have spent time in the corporate communication trenches, but also on the fact that they do not minimize the difficulties of promoting and launching a strategic corporate journalism initiative. Discussing another central value of this strategy - an organizational "free press" - they admit that this requires a level of trust between the editorial team and the executive team that is not easily achieved. And in the next chapter, where they examine current examples of corporate journalism, they report results that are, well, disappointing.

Included is an excellent appendix, which offers a blueprint for "integrating strategic corporate journalism as the core of an organizational communication strategy"

There is much to argue with in "Beyond Spin." Its assurance that the work place is becoming more democratized, for one thing. The authors' unsupported assertion that open communication leads to buy-in, trust, commitment and alignment, which in turn "translates to bottom-line competitiveness," for another (naturally, as an organizational communicator, I, too, take this on faith). But these are mere quibbles when compared to the full scope and breadth of the book. "Beyond Spin" is, in short, as useful as it is fascinating.

Alden Mudge is director operations and communication, California Council for the Humanities, San Francisco.
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Author:Mudge, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Previous Article:Doing Business Virtually.
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