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LAX 3: PR tool

When negative press coverage of the Duke lacrosse story first hit the national stage, a Washington Post reporter got my number from a local reporter and called to ask about Duke’s Neighborhood Partnership Initiative.

When asked what prompted such a question in the context of the serious allegations in this story, the reporter said he had spoken with Duke Senior Vice President for Public Relations John Burness, who lauded the partnership and provided the reporter with a link to its Web site.

Duke University should not have used the neighborhood partnership as a PR tool in its damage control efforts.

The fact that the partnership initiative functions as an extension of Duke’s PR department raises questions about whether or not it is a genuine partnership. The events of recent weeks have been painful and difficult, evoking strong emotions and exposing many tensions and divisions within and between the Duke and Durham communities.

Genuine partners engage in dialogue and express their feelings freely. So long as Duke continues to understand and use neighborhood partnerships as extensions of its PR office, true and full partnership isn’t possible.

And that, it seems, is both the point and the problem with having the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative located in Duke’s PR office.

John Schlep

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