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Guest Opinion: Communication necessary for Mason

BY GUEST OPINION | DECEMBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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As a longtime supporter of the University of Iowa, I found your editorial regarding the lack of access to the president of the university to be well-written and frankly disturbing. In contrast, I was surprised to find that Vice President for Strategic Communications Joe Brennan’s response was weak at best. He focused on the trivial while ignoring the larger issue, a communications technique used by many PR organizations designed to take the reader’s attention away from the core issues.

The facts are simple: The student body is one of UI’s most important constituencies, and the DI is a major channel to this constituency. Over the years, the university has appropriately recognized the importance of the student population by providing the DI with regular one-on-one access to the university president.

In February, a DI article included a direct quote from President Sally Mason that some readers apparently misinterpreted, and the one-on-one access was subsequently terminated and replaced with a vehicle that would allow the university to control the message and limit its exposure to unpleasant topics. What caused this change? I sincerely doubt that it was orchestrated by Mason.

After all, there must have been other occasions on which the DI published an article or quote that she disapproved of, yet one-on-one access continued unabated. What is different is the hiring of Brennan in July 2013. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that Brennan was the instigator of this change and as such has attempted to defend his position.

Shortly before he arrived at the UI, Brennan made a presentation entitled “PR in the Age of Disruption: The New Rules for Thriving,” which included the following:

Rule No. 5: Communicate to Build Community:

The leaders who will be most successful in the age of disruption are those who recognize that communication today is not a one-way process in which authoritative information is transmitted from the powerful to the powerless — or from leaders to followers or from businesses to consumers.

In the age of disruption, communication must be a two-way process. Smart leaders recognize that they must listen as much — or more — than they speak. Smart leaders communicate to build community — guiding the conversation, not dictating the message.

In this kind of communication, people are invited to help create shared meaning. The goal of communication is to help organizations and their publics adapt to each other. Authentic two-way communication builds trust and reduces friction in relationships. It is needed more than ever in the age of disruption.

Mason and Brennan should adopt Rule No. 5 and re-engage with the DI to recover a constructive working relationship. Mason is not just any university president, she is the UI president and, as such, is a very important news creator for the DI. Similarly, the DI is not just another newspaper; it is the newspaper for the UI community. It is clear that the university president and the DI have always had, and hopefully will continue to have, a unique and special relationship.

Dan Jones
University of Michigan ‘71


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