Navigating the Sea of Information

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Posted At: January 21, 2012 3:30 PM
by Jaley Cranford

Allegations. Scandals. Investigations.

To whom do universities look when disaster strikes? They are the women and men in media relations.

These unsung heroes help keep colleges in positive light. Whether a university is hit with a scandal of Penn State proportions or wants to generate awareness of a new program, PR practitioners in media relations help guide university officials. Through both the calm and storms that go along with being in the public eye, media relations navigates the sea of information.

Cathy Andreen is the director of media relations at The University of Alabama. She, an assistant director and a team of six communication specialists work to disseminate accurate information about the Capstone.

“Our office produces all the University’s news releases, promotes stories to the media, sets up interviews, provides PR counsel to administrators, faculty and staff, writes the University’s research magazine, writes features for the UA website and handles a wide range media inquiries,” Andreen said.

While Andreen has been at The University of Alabama for 28 years, she has also worked in a smalI firm in New York City and at Georgia State University.

“I had worked in a college PR office during the summers when I was in college working on a degree in English,” Andreen said. “I enjoyed that early experience in PR and decided to pursue a master’s degree in public relations. I have worked in public relations, primarily in media relations, throughout my career.”

Media relations can sometimes be misconstrued as an easy thing to do. When things like the Penn State scandal happen, NCAA investigations and tragedy strike, the men and women in media relations are the people dealing with the difficult task of helping move the university forward.

Andreen said the hardest thing about her job is dealing with the media when negative things happen at The University of Alabama.

“I work with the assistant vice president for university relations and other administrators to address any crises or negative issues that arise on campus,” Andreen said. “Incidents that involve the death or injury of a student are always difficult. Fortunately, these incidents are rare.”

Though such events are inevitable, Andreen’s favorite part of working as head of media relations at a university is disseminating positive information about the institution.

The assistant director that Andreen mentioned is Chris Bryant.

Bryant, like many PR professionals, found his way into public relations through a love of writing. Upon obtaining a degree in journalism, he worked in the newspaper business. After relocating to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Bryant found an opening in the UA media relations department in 1995.

“I learned of an opening in the media relations office at UA and saw it would give me an opportunity to continue doing what I love to do . . . write . . . while broadening some of my other professional skills,” Bryant said.

After 16 years at The University of Alabama, Bryant said that his job is still full of variety.

“I’m still learning – both about media relations and, from our faculty and students, about various topics in which they’re involved and that I get to try and write about,” Bryant said. “Working regularly with newspaper reporters to bring additional positive attention to UA also helps feed my news addiction, so that’s another big plus.”

Bryant said that the UA media relations department is divided into beats much like a newspaper. Each sector is assigned to various areas of the University.

“As assistant director of media relations, I’m our office’s primary editor, so I get to edit most of our office’s news releases, for example,” Bryant said. “In my capacity as director of research communications, I’m especially interested in promoting some of our research efforts, and I’m editor of UA’s annual research magazine and our research news website.”

Once again, Bryant said that the hardest thing about working in media relations is delivering bad news.

“Occasionally our office has to be the bearer of bad news . . . related to someone or something affiliated with the University,” Bryant said.

Whether good or bad, media relations centers on the idea of getting information about a university out into the public. PR professionals like Andreen and Bryant help universities overcome hardships and showcase the positives in a higher education institution.

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