PR Roundup: How Not to Interview Caitlin Clark, North American Communications Monitor and NPR’s Rollercoaster Week

Caitlin Clark at her first Indiana Fever press conference gets an awkward question from a creepy reporter.

This week’s PR Roundup explores how not to interview Caitlin Clark, The Plank Center's North American Communication Monitor results, and how NPR can regain public trust after a rollercoaster week. 

How Not to Report on Women’s Basketball

What happened: This week’s WNBA draft continued to bask in the afterglow of an historic Women’s NCAA March Madness tournament and welcome some of its newest and brightest stars. 

Caitlin Clark mania continued for the Indiana Fever, who drafted the University of Iowa star with the first pick in the draft. Unfortunately an awkward interaction between an Indianapolis Star columnist and Clark overshadowed much of her introductory press conference with the Fever. 

Gregg Doyel, the columnist, wrote a sort-of apology piece on April 17 in the Star, but the damage had already been done, and social media users had a field day canceling Doyel.  

Communication takeaways: It will be curious to see what happens next with Doyel and his tenure with the Indy Star. Lauren Smith, Professor of Communication Studies, Sports Communication & Media at Rowan University, says this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coverage of women’s sports. 

“Women’s sports are finally seeing a long overdue push, and with that push, the issues and problems with the treatment of female athletes are coming to the light for a lot of people,” Smith says. “When these problematic behaviors are shown, I believe the best course of action is to not only point it out and condemn it, but explain WHY it’s problematic. Gregg Doyel’s statement yesterday left a lot of women holding the bag (again) to explain why the statement was so gross.”

Molly K. Yanity, Professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University says Doyel was right to apologize quickly on social media, but that was about the extent of the “right moves” by him and the Indianapolis Star. 

“He never should have been allowed to write a column about his apology, which of course rehashed and described the entire cringy episode,” Yanity says. “The next-day column just further made a spectacle of the incident and of the apology. It didn't seem to me that Doyel or the brass at the Star understood the public sentiment surrounding it all. Doyel should've apologized briefly and sincerely on social media, apologized to Clark privately and then made himself scarce in WNBA media circles—which, frankly, he had been before.” 

Smith also notes the importance for other communicators and journalists in that situation to call out problematic questions in the future. 

“Put a stop to it,” she says. “Don’t put that on the player to have to muddle through the uncomfortable interaction.”

Plank Center North American Communication Monitor Released

What happened: This week The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations released its North American Communication Monitor. The study examines the state of public relations in Canada and the United States, and researchers found the top issue in the industry to be dealing with AI. 

Communication professionals say the biggest challenges to the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalization in communications are human, not technical. Respondents pointed to issues with tasks and processes not being curated for digitalization (40%) and with those who lack experience in data and teach competencies (39%).

And on the side of industry progress, roughly 20% of the respondents describe their communication units as being advanced in AI usage and communication technology.

Other notable industry challenges and trends uncovered by the study include: 

  • Communication departments and agencies are most heavily involved internally in celebrating and creating DEI (64%) and implementing (63%) DEI policies and less involved in informing external audiences about DEI-related matters (56%).
  • More than two-thirds of communication professionals in North America report that their communication leaders had increased levels of empathy during the last year (68%) and are generally empathic when communicating with colleagues (71%).
  • Overall, communication professionals are committed to their organization (70%), are engaged at work (68%), and experience positive mental health (50%). However more than one-third intend to change jobs in the coming year (37%). Younger communication professionals appear less satisfied, reporting lower commitment, engagement and positive mental health. They also have the highest turnover intentions.
  • Trust is dropping as the most important strategic issue for communication management in the United States and Canada. In 2018-19, 50% of respondents cited trust as the top strategic issue. That fell to 35% in 2020-21 and 34% in 2023-24.

Communication takeaways: While implementing tools and software at any type of organization can cause grief, each industry will handle the integration of AI in a different way. Public relations places an importance on human connection, signifying that AI needs to follow that lead to be effective. 

“According to our findings from this edition of NACM, organizations face notable challenges at the technological and/or infrastructural levels such as high data, bandwidth/cloud requirements, and insufficient IT support when introducing Generative AI,” says Juan Meng, Ph.D., Lead researcher of NACM, Professor of Public Relations at the University of Georgia. “However, communication professionals are more concerned about the inability of Generative AI itself to address human emotions, nuances, and true human interaction and creativity in the communication process.”

Meng says this will create more work for communicators, but acknowledges the care taken when introducing this new technology.  

“The lack of human touch presents challenges at the individual level for communication professionals as they need to be more thoughtful about issues such as ethical concerns, data privacy, ownership, credibility, and the gap between AI thinking and human implementation.”

NPR Dragged Through Mud by Now-Former Reporter

What happened: Uri Berliner, a senior business editor with a 25-year tenure at National Public Radio published a 3,500 word essay in the the Free Press this past week, accusing the media outlet of unethical journalistic practice, claiming a push for liberal bias. The essay threw the organization into an uproar, with many staffers and management disputing Berliner’s claims. 

Berliner resigned on April 17, calling NPR “a great American institution” that should not be defunded in a post to his X account, but also did not leave without criticizing his former CEO.  

In response right wing representatives on social media called to defund NPR and bashed liberal media, leaving the public broadcasting org in quite a mess. 

Communication takeaways: Dan Rene of Dan Rene Communications says the recent revelations by an NPR whistleblower, while not entirely unexpected, have provided critics with yet another reason to advocate for the cessation of public funding due to perceived bias—a recurring demand that NPR has faced in the past.

He believes although the latest controversy may not prompt immediate changes at NPR, the organization would be prudent to take proactive measures to avoid further scrutiny.

“By refocusing on its core mission of impartial news reporting and diligently working to eliminate bias, and communicating how it is doing so, NPR could mitigate the grievances voiced by its critics and safeguard its public funding,” Rene says.

“NPR should show its audience and those who make decisions about its funding that its journalists retain the crucial role of highlighting inconsistencies and holding politicians accountable, but achieving true journalistic integrity necessitates an unbiased approach, regardless of political affiliations.”

Nicole Schuman is managing editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal