Saturday, February 02, 2008

Pucker Your Lips and...Blow (sometimes)

I found Beverly K. Phillips’ article “Pucker Your Lips But Never Blow” to be quite controversial. The majority of her article talks about Amy Van Ostrand, the public relations and outreach coordinator for the Hamilton Country Humane Society (HCHS). Phillips believes that Van Ostrand should not have spoken out publically against the Humane Society. To put it in her own words: “Laws or no laws, licensing or no licensing, I believe there's an expectation and duty to maintain confidentiality if acting in a public relations capacity, and certainly if it's included in ones official job title as in the case of Van Ostrand.”

What bothered me was the way that Phillips spoke about Van Ostrand, in a particularly negative and accusatory rhetoric. She heartily points out that Van Ostrand “has given a black eye to every public relations professional who works hard, year after year after year, to build the confidence that's necessary to effectively counsel upper management.” This was when I started to get really annoyed. To preface this, I want to make it clear that I understand and agree with Phillips’ fundamental argument: a whistleblower should do all that he/she can to keep the complaint inside the company and let the company work it out internally before releasing information to the media.

However, as I mentioned in class when we spoke about this, I feel that what is most important is to put Van Ostrand’s case into perspective. As a reader, we have no background as to what steps she took to institute change within the HCHS. And Professor Prenkert backed up my theory by explaining that Van Ostrand did, indeed, take many steps before she blew the whistle publically. In the article, Van Ostrand is even quoted as saying “I tried desperately to protect the agency from public embarrassment, putting the agency before myself.”

I feel that it is wrong to make one’s allegations public as a first step, but after one has tried time and time again to implement change, is it still wrong to go public? Perhaps it is the only way to force policy changes. Would Enron still be alive if it hadn’t been for Sherron Watkins? Would the company have changed its illegal accounting practices and cleaned itself up, or would someone else have blown the whistle?

I want to end by focusing on Phillips article, which, as I mentioned earlier, was a bit abrasive and accusatory. Following her comment about giving PR professionals a black eye, she closes her argument by saying, “I hope she'll consider this next time she takes a job that involves public relations in any way, shape or form.” Yes, this is an editorial. But no, I don’t agree with what Phillips says here. If, after several attempts, a person has failed to implement change in a crooked business, then I feel that the individual has the right to take it to the government, media, or wherever it needs to go to be heard.


Blogger Vic Simianu said...

I don't really believe that the Humane Society resembles what most relate to as a "crooked business," yet I agree with your argument that the whistle blowing was necessary. The amount of frustration she faced from her previous employer in Indy, combined with her Hamilton County experience seems to be pushing the limits of anyone's threshold for neglect. The fact that the HCHS did not take the steps to correct their practices (out of principle) shows that something went awry in management, and deserved the flack which arose from Van Ostrand's whistle blowing. I hope that these recent whistle blowing stories serve as good wake up calls for many businesses across the world to start emphasizing ethics and trust as opposed to profits and arrogance.

12:03 PM  

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