Oral Histories

James Grunig

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

James Grunig Biography


INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about your theories in the age of social media—I think about your symmetrical model for instance? GRUNIG: That’s very interesting. I just saw a blog in someplace in the UK last week that said the Grunig theories need to be reevaluated now in the age of social media. And I looked at it and said no, they’re more applicable now than they ever were, in fact, with digital media; digital media in a broad sense. I think digital media are broader than social media. But they’ve made the symmetrical model inevitable, in my opinion. I just don’t see how any organization can try to communicate with publics without listening, without engaging in dialogue, without trying to understand how they see their interests when organizations make decisions to behave in certain ways. There was what I call the illusion of control, that public relations people and organizations in general seemed to believe they could control the messages that were going to publics and that would control the way they thought about their organization. I never really did think that was true. People were able to talk to each other and they got information from different sources. They weren’t restricted to media or advertising or what else. They had their own experiences. They talked to other people. They read other sources of information. But now digital media just make it much easier to do that. So if you want information about a product… For example, I’m at the age now where I use a lot of medical products and I don’t take anything without doing an internet search first. The site I’m least likely to trust is the one that’s coming from the pharmaceutical company. In the same way, I wouldn’t buy a dehumidifier for my basement without seeing whether people say it breaks down after a year. So, the control, I think, was always in the hands of people; individuals and publics. But now it is much more in their hands because you just can go anywhere to get information and you’re not restricted to what organizations choose to make available for you. So this symmetrical model basically is a model of dialogue. It’s a model of looking out both for the interest of your organization and for the publics that are affected by the organization, and it’s much easier for an organization to find out how publics are affected because they can simply go online and do searches and read blogs and find out what people are saying about how decisions are affecting them. I think the new media make it very interesting to practice public relations because I think it’s going to be much easier to convince management that it has to be more open in communicating with publics and that you really can’t use the symbolic, interpretive approach to try to put out an interpretation that you want people to hear because they easily can get a different interpretation someplace else.