Remarks from Bill Nielsen at the 2018 Page Center Awards
March 26, 2018
Good evening, everyone.
I’m Bill Nielsen and it is my great privilege to chair the advisory board of the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication.
Together with Marie Hardin, dean of the College of Communications at Penn State, whom you will meet in a moment, we are delighted to welcome you. We believe this will be an important and meaningful event as we recognize and honor three individuals: Bill George, Gwen Ifill and John Onoda, whose career-long work in public communications deserves to be celebrated.
We’d like to welcome and acknowledge last year’s honorees so that we can once again applaud the ideals and ethical practices they represent.
Unfortunately, Ann Barkelew, one of our honorees last year, could not be here tonight because illness in the family. Our best thoughts and prayers are with both Jim and Ann tonight.
Let me introduce Alan Murray, chief content editor for Fortune, please stand, and Dick Martin, formerly chief communications officer for AT&T. Thank you, again for your dedication to the truth and to fact-based reporting in public communication.
The Page Center was created on the strength of the inspiration and financial support provided by the late Larry Foster and his wife Ellen, both Penn State graduates. Larry began as a journalist, but then became the long-time chief of public relations at Johnson & Johnson. We again honor his memory tonight as we seek to fulfill his vision. His vision was that all those engaged in communication with the public – notably journalists and public relations people and business executives – shared a responsibility to the truth and fact-based reporting in their work.
The Center, endowed by Larry and Ellen, along with contributions from their friends and associates, operates independently, as Marie and Denise Bortree, our director, will explain. But in order to provide firm links to facilitate the exchange of information between the academic research center and the professionals in public communications, Larry called for the establishment of an advisory board.
I would like to introduce our board members, and ask them to stand.
Roger Bolton — following a long career in communications including chief communications officer for Aetna, he is now president of the Arthur Page Society
Ellen Fisher — she is senior vice president of public relations and social media with the Ad Council.
Jon Iwata — recently retired from IBM, where he headed communications, marketing, and brand reputation.
Tom Martin — following posts with FedEx and ITT, Tom is now teaching at the College of Charleston
Gary Sheffer — following his post at chief communications officer at GE, he is now with Weber Shandwick.
Maril MacDonald — following her work in public relations with Navistar, now has her own consulting firm, Gagen MacDonald
Bill Margaritas — following a long post with FedEx as chief communications officer is now a management communications consultant.
John Nichols — He is professor emeritus of Penn State and also former associate dean of the College of Communications
Thank you all for your dedication to the Page Center.
Our newest board member is Sandra Clark, vice president for news and civic dialogue at WHYY in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Sandra could not be with us tonight but we look forward to her contributions.
It is now my great pleasure to welcome Marie Hardin, dean of the College of Communications a Penn State. Her college has a new name and she will tell you about that. But, on behalf of our profession, I want to say Marie’s drive, energy, commitment and dedication to the Arthur W. Page Center gives it and all of us our life and vitality.
Please welcome, Marie Hardin.
A year ago, when we staged our first event to honor integrity in public communication, you’d have to say we were in a state of “shock and awe” at what was happening in society and how it was affecting our disciplines in public communication.
Looking back, I’m sure we will conclude that it was certainly a wake up call. A year later, we still can’t turn off the alarm.
Over the past year, while conditions have not improved as much as we would want, we have seen a great reckoning taking place across our society and within the communications disciplines we represent – journalism, public relations and business management communications.
Many of our great corporations have come to recognize that the truth about who they are is probably best demonstrated through purpose-driven strategies. Together with a focus on values-based decision-making and behavior that is consistent with the responsibilities they assume in relationships with stakeholders, there is a great deal of work devoted to the restoration of public trust.
Communication agencies have strengthened ethical practice codes, and media companies are pledging to separate fact from opinion.
I don’t mean to suggest that we’ve experienced a turn around.
The erosion of public trust documented in the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, and elsewhere, points to the very serious decline of public distrust in sources of information, and we face many years of work to achieve recovery.
Much has been written and said about fake news and the overabundance of hyperbole in public discourse and how this has contributed to the erosion of public trust.
One very interesting study recently released by The Rand Corporation, points to the growing disregard for facts, data and analysis in political and civil discourse. They call it “Truth Decay.”
But what the public hears less about in the current environment are the many journalists, public relations practitioners, business, marketing and advertising executives who work diligently to uphold the very highest ethical and professional standards in the course of communicating with the public.
That’s what tonight is all about. That’s why we established this event last year.
The selection of our honorees involves a rigorous process starting with nominations from our advisory board and then case studies developed by the Page Center. Our goal is to honor individuals who have demonstrated the highest ethical standards and professional integrity, and to celebrate their achievements as iconic examples for all to emulate.
We have three such individuals to honor tonight.
(Honorees are recognized)
I’m sure we’ve all gained inspiration from the demonstrable and palpable dedication of our honorees.
So, why is this so important?
I think it is important to remember that we are in the midst of huge change in every sector of society and globally. In addition to working to restore public trust in our institutions and sources of information, new orders of business are being put into place and change makers are emerging everywhere, including from younger generations.
We know that change for the better is only achieved through effective communication with the public—to create awareness and understanding of the facts and the truth, to articulate the rationale for change and to encourage acceptance of change.
All of us in the many disciplines of communications are at the center of this very important moment in history with the skills and the values to help find the way forward.
This is a huge responsibility. Many would suggest our work is a calling.
Tonight we have recognized and honored iconic individuals who are richly deserving of public trust.
Let’s follow the examples they have set. We are the facilitators of change and this mission—the restoration of public trust—is too big and important to fail. No amount of artificial intelligence or augmented reality, or automated websites (or bots) will change that truth. On this, we must prevail on the strength of our personal commitments to integrity in public communication.
Thanks to all of you for being here tonight. Thanks to our sponsors. We look forward to seeing you next year.