Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Richard Bailey

At the urging of the Friendly Ghost, I've compiled a list of PR educator-bloggers (now featured on my blog roll). The good news is that I found quite a few more than last time I looked -- 17 by my count, but I'm sure there are more (especially those not in English). The bad news is that I don't know a lot of these people! So I decided to institute a new feature on Teaching PR, "Meet the Teacher."

My first interview is with Richard Bailey of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. Richard's PR Studies was one of the first PR educator blogs I found, and it remains one of my favorite (I guess I should say "favourite".) Here are Richard's answers to a few of my questions.

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? What is the purpose of your blog? Are you using any other social media?
It was pure opportunism. I was working as a freelance PR consultant and professional trainer around the start of the new millennium (also the time the dot com bubble burst - with the inevitable downturn about to follow). So I was in need of a personal website, had some time on my hands - and was in need to learning some new skills myself. I then gained a broadband connection to my home office and felt the need to make use of all this 'free' time online. I didn't get on with Blogger and wasn't aware of other blogging or content management software at the time. So I created my own home-coded website with blog-like characteristics (it was at though it's no longer live and I've not kept up the domain name.) This was in 2001.

By 2003 I'd taken a full-time lecturing job so registered the domain and subscribed to Typepad for my blog. It was envisaged as a group blog for our 12-strong public relations teaching team but there's something solitary and individualistic about blogging so it reverted to being a personal site. This is my current blog.

It's purpose is what it always was: to keep me learning. But it's no longer technology that I'm learning about, but ideas. (Interestingly, mine was never a blog about blogs; it was always meant to be a blog about public relations ideas and practice.)

We're now in need of a faculty web presence to reflect the breadth of our teaching, consultancy and research so the next evolution should be to embed the blog into a content management system.

Yes, I've explored other social media applications, but haven't found myself an enthusiastic participant of any until Facebook opened its doors this year. Now all of those disparate applications (eg Twitter, tagging, FlickR etc etc) seem to make sense withing a social networking site with critical mass.

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there.
As related in Jacquie L'Etang's Public Relations in Britain, the course at Leeds Metroplitan University (then Leeds Polytechnic) was one of the pioneering undergraduate programs in the UK. We're now one of the largest in terms of faculty and student numbers. We even have two professors of public relations (the most senior academic position) in Anne Gregory and Ralph Tench.

Where we differ from some other courses in the UK, and most, I believe, in the US is that we're situated in a business school, not within journalism or media studies. So our students gain a broader business and marketing education alongside theory and practice modules. All undergraduates complete a dissertation and around half of our cohort (around 60 this coming academic year) take a paid industrial placement as part of the course.

Back to social media: we aim to embed this into the curriculum rather than to teach it as a distinctive element. (After all, no one would consider teaching 'telephone public relations' would they?) So we're introducing electronic and online versions of the practice portfolios which have for a long time been a distinctive part of our course. I'm happy to acknowledge Robert French's pioneering work on online portfolios at Auburn as an inspiration.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
Blogs are good places for reflection and learning; they're also famously good for Google searches, so I'm surprised that there aren't more educators online. (In a more contentious mood, I've predicted that the process of online debate might even replace the more ponderous process of academic peer review. Though there's no evidence of this happening yet, we're certainly seeing blogs and online sources cited in 'serious' academic texts. I'm a huge fan of Wikipedia - though again I may be a solitary voice among my colleagues in this.)

The downsides are very apparent too. Blogging is an instant (though not disposable) medium. This poses pressures that many educators and academics are unprepared for. What if they can't keep up the momentum (my problem this year)? What if they live to regret their off-the-cuff remarks? But the flip side is how can we teach something we've no experience of?

The dangers for students and blogs are even more apparent. We've seen it with blogs and now with Facebook. There's a blurring of the boundary between public and private - but this makes it a fascinating time to be an educator, and it's what keeps me going.

Q. You also administer the PR Books wiki. Is that difficult? How is it going?
Similar story. I needed to do before I felt able to comment or to teach, so I started last summer. As a collaborative exercise (the USP of a wiki) it's a failure. But as an edited site it saves me time - so I aim to keep it going. Blogs emphasise the new and the up-to-date; I find the wiki a useful repository for static data that doesn't need to change quite so often.

Q. One of my favorite things about your blog is that you occasionally review books to save a little time for the rest of us. How do you decide which ones to review? What has the response been?
I'd started book reviewing on my old site and noted how, in an early example of the rise of social media, I was being quoted by some publishers (and how I was sent review copies by others).

Reading books is an essential part of this role, so I like to keep ahead of the field where possible. I also know that there are so many inquiring and intelligent people among the practitioner community who may not have my time or access to new books so I don't limit myself to academic texts. But my reviews are sporadic: it's entirely based on what's new and what interests me at the time.

It's now time I wrote something, and in keeping with my ethos, I've already stated that I'm working on a social media project aimed at introducing public relations to beginners. They're tomorrow's students and practitioners...

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Brilliant idea. And I don't think I so much 'urged' as 'persuaded'. Not even that. More 'seduced', even... :)
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"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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