Sunday, December 6, 2009
Carilion: An Opportunity To Explain
Carilion Clinic, which has faced a daunting amount of negative coverage of its every move from both local and national newspapers during the past two years takes a small opportunity Thursday to try to explain its approach with the media.
I have contended for some time that Carilion is not nearly assertive enough in telling its story--or that the newspapers aren't listening. I'm not sure which, but Eric Earnhart, the director of media and community relations and a former television newsman, will talk to the Blue Ridge Public Relations Society of America luncheon at noon at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center. Cost is $22 for members and $30 for nonmembers and students.
You can call 342-0411 or visit here to make reservations.
I have not envied Eric his job with newspapers playing "gotcha" with every move Carilion makes and playing even the most inconsequential stories (niggling and even routine safety violations, for example) above the fold, Page 1 with writing that accuses, rather than reports. I am not and never have been a big corporate defender (I grew up in newspapers and like most of my colleagues have a strong distrust of large organizations), but the more I see of the Carilion coverage, the more I understand why people accuse newspapers of slanted coverage.
Since I reported a little over a week ago that Carilion has no interest in buying or occupying the Burkholder property at the Riverside Center, a Roanoke daily newspaper has written three different stories, first reporting Cairlion's assertion (after ignoring it for years), then trying like hell to debunk it. An e-mail to the Housing Authority telling it that Carilion might like to put a road on the property (which it put somewhere else) if the case is ever settled is the latest hard evidence of corporate bad-boy activity. Eric is the only Carilion official directly quoted--as he most often is. The story fairly screams, "Aha! This time we've nailed you bastards!" The reporting on the story is quite good: thorough and with the use of the press's power to get to public documents. The structure and writing, however, leave you absolutely no doubt where the paper stands in this.
I have found that the upper level executives at Carilion are approachable, knowledgeable about what goes on, willing to talk about it and open and detailed in their revelations. Eric is smart, but he is not the guy steering the ship. I am eager to hear what he has to say. My guess is that this PRSA talk will draw well.