Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 15, 1996

Administration taking steps to encourage positive news coverage

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg told Senate Council Feb. 12 that Pitt's administration is taking a two-pronged approach toward encouraging more positive news coverage of the University.

First, "We clearly have to do everything we can to avoid making foolish mistakes and do things that are deserving of positive attention," he said. "Secondly, we have got to be more energetic and pro-active in our dealings with all of the media. We have taken the first steps in that regard, and there is more that's planned." But the administration can't write the headlines and dictate the news, Nordenberg noted.

In publicly releasing what has come to be called the Fisher report — a comprehensive review of Pitt written by a team of prominent educators headed by consultant James L. Fisher — Nordenberg and Board of Trustees Chairperson J. Wray Connolly made themselves available for hours of interviews with local reporters. Nordenberg and Connolly met with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board Downtown. The lengthy meeting was highlighted by "what seemed to be very constructive exchanges," Nordenberg said.

The Post-Gazette's subsequent page-one story on the Fisher Report was reasonably balanced, the interim chancellor said. But the headline, "Why Pitt Isn't It," was unfair and did not reflect the many positive comments the consultants wrote about the University, according to Nordenberg. "I guess we've got to recognize the limits on what we can do, while at the same time trying to maximize everything we can do," Nordenberg told Senate Council.

Council member James Holland, past president of the University Senate, praised Nordenberg and Connolly for "taking the direct approach" with the media by widely releasing the report and meeting with reporters. "I think that [approach] does an awful lot more than slick P.R." to promote balanced coverage of Pitt, Holland said.

If the Post-Gazette staff had been forced to obtain a copy of the Fisher report through some confidential source, the resulting story probably would have been more negative than the published one, Holland suggested.

Council member Robert Mundell said Pitt fails to adequately publicize research and other positive faculty activities. Nordenberg said he agreed, but that the University will increase its media relations efforts in the near future.

The discussion of Pitt P.R. was prompted by Council member Lee Gutkind, who asked what the University was doing to counter negative news coverage– "because we all know that there are some wonderful things happening at Pitt, and it's important that the people of Pittsburgh, the people of Allegheny County, and the people of the United States know about them." The Fisher report recommended that the University embark on a "carefully considered campaign to market Pitt effectively" and improve relations with potential benefactors, politicians and business persons, the Oakland community and the news media. Since the Fisher team did its research last fall, Nordenberg has ordered that Pitt's communications office report directly to him. The office, which employs five full-time professionals, coordinates media relations for the lower campus. Media relations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pitt's six Health Sciences schools are handled by the Health Sciences News Bureau, which employs eight public relations professionals. (Several Pitt schools and departments, including the Katz Graduate School of Business and the music and theatre arts departments, employ staff who do some media relations work among their other duties.) By comparison, Carnegie Mellon University — which, according to some Pitt administrators, gets far more positive P.R. than Pitt does, despite being a much smaller institution — employs 12 full-time media relations professionals, or one less than Pitt and its medical center combined.

Pitt employs fewer non-medical P.R. professionals than a number of state universities in urban locations, including the University of Michigan (10 staff members), Ohio State (nine), and the universities of Cincinnati and Maryland (eight each).

In other Senate Council business, Provost James Maher commented on a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that the Pitt administration is considering eliminating some of the University's doctoral programs. Maher acknowledged that Pitt may have to cut some lesser-priority Ph.D. programs — along with other academic programs — in the next few years, in order to have sufficient funds for higher-priority programs. But any paring will be done through an ongoing planning and budgeting process that involves faculty and staff, Maher said; the administration will not dictate the cuts.

Maher said the Post-Gazette story incorrectly reported that Pitt's administration ordered a review of doctoral programs in response to the Fisher report, which questioned whether the University could sustain all 82 of its doctoral programs.

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply