Here’s a great example of PR, government communications and corporate writing—the magic triumvirate. It’s a story from July that received modest coverage in Chicago.
Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, paid $24,999 for 5,000 copies of Cook County Magazine, a publication that county officials hoped would foster “non-threatening news environment that ensures regular, positive press—to counter-balance negative press often found in the mainstream media.”
However, those 5,000 copies never saw distribution—the magazine was shelved. (Here’s a black and white pdf of the publication.)
Several area columnists, bloggers and The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board slammed the magazine. They deemed it an ego project for Cook County President Todd Stroger, who appeared on the cover. It also claimed he spent exactly $24,999, because one dollar more and the project required approval from the Cook County board of commissioners.
The magazine, an attempt to build good PR, quickly turned into a public relations disaster. And then county officials said they noted a scourge of grammatical problems within the magazine, and shelved it.
“Judging on grammatical stuff—something misspelled or that's not a complete sentence—falls back on the [county] president,” county spokesperson Eugene Mullins told the media. “And this is a Cook County magazine. I have to find a way to get rid of them. I'm not distributing them.”
Sounds to me like Mullins, clearly a “grammatical stuff” buff, was looking for a scapegoat to make sure no one saw the magazine—and she found it in the editor/publisher, Theresa Tracy, an occasional contributor to The Chicago Tribune.
Certain members of the Chicago media ate this up, mocking not only government but also Tracy for her poor editing and even worse content. For instance, the Sun-Times criticized Tracy’s softball interview with Stroger, which starts, the Sun-Times notes, with this question: “How are you feeling these days?”
The Sun-Times added: “There's also a short obituary for Stroger's late father and predecessor as county board president, John H. Stroger Jr., who died in January. It misspells his name.”
Few specific details emerged about this publication. For example, it’s unclear whether Tracy planned to sell the magazine or mail it to residents for free. (Three ads appeared in the magazine.)
But it seems like Cook County Magazine was an internal publication for county residents—much like the ones many of you produce.
For that reason, criticizing the editor’s interview of Stroger is a pretty low blow. You won’t find many “gotcha” interviews in the organizational press. Not to mention the question is warranted: Stroger had just recovered from a bout with cancer.
Of course, the misspelling is a black mark on the magazine. However, even that is slightly misrepresented in the Sun-Times. The late Cook County president’s name is John H. Stroger; the magazine referred to him as John W. Stroger. Hard to dismiss an error like that, then again it’s not like editors were ignoring the spell check.
Spending $25,000 for 5,000 copies of 31-page glossy magazine that never saw the light of day is embarrassing and abhorring for taxpayers; as a Cook Country resident that is my money, after all. But at the end of the day, misspelling and all, it is not the editor who deserves the blame for this one.
One Illinois county paid $25K for its own magazine, which no one saw.