Rarely do most public universities have public relations as sophisticated as those of Stony Brook University. The typical university might market its news and events through student workers overseen by an administrator a scant few years older than its staff. If the university has a little more oomph to its name, it might even entrust a PR firm to handle what media presence they might have.
As a flagship school to the country’s largest public university system, there is little wonder, then, that PR functions span across several departments within SBU. From the Athletics department, to the University Police Department, even to the university’s official Media Relations office, there is little doubt as to how well-oiled the school’s public relations machine is.
Put it into practice. Ask about anything remotely controversial. Play a well-meaning, if slightly obtuse, joke on the university during a homecoming game. Watch most sources disappear and all official venues of contact dry up. Lucky winners might even find an email or two in their inbox detailing what the organization should or should not do — as if students cannot be trustworthy journalists of any caliber.
Arguably, this is proof that the university’s PR is working. As journalists, it is the job of Statesman writers and photojournalists to get behind the spin and dissect it for their readers. However, how far is too far when it comes to withholding information that the student body needs? Knowing the name of the police officer that struck Brianna Bifone last semester is not about satisfying curiosity; it’s about holding the police accountable for their actions. Knowing the student desperate enough to jump off the Chemistry building last spring gives a face and a name to the issue and helps others to recognize the same signs in their friends and colleagues. So how is it that such information was never released to the general public? Why are people denied information that is ours to have, by right?
University media relations walk a fine line between getting information out and keeping information in. Ultimately, it is not their job to read minds and offer pertinent information at a snap of a finger. But conversely, it is also not their job to deny pertinent information to those that seek to inform the student body in a timely and respectful manner. To do so will only harm the university’s image in the long run and undermine the many positive aspects of the school overall.
The Editorial Board