Baylor Journalism Professor, Public Relations Ethics Expert, Selected as Arthur W. Page FellowNovember 13, 20183 min read
Marlene Neill, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, has been designated as a research fellow at the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, a research center at the Penn State University College of Communications.
The Page Center has asked Neill to focus on developing a response to a new report from the Commission on Public Relations Education that recommends public relations education programs offer a stand-alone ethics course, as well as integrate ethics throughout curriculum. The study found that public relations professionals ranked ethics third behind writing and communication as a necessary competency to work in public relations. In addition, public relations professionals in the study indicated that new professionals are not meeting their expectations in this area.
“This is a great project because it combines my interests, the first being ethics, which is an area that I enjoy studying, and the second is a focus on public relations education,” Neill said. “I will be teaching the media ethics class in the spring for the first time, and one of the things I like about doing these studies is that it helps me gather insights from industry and then bring those insights back to the classroom.”
Since receiving her invitation in June, Neill has begun preparations for research this fall with different groups across the nation, including the Public Relations Society of America. She will use the Delphi research method, where she will gather feedback from a variety of experts including senior- and middle-management executives as well as young professionals, and will then follow up with in-depth interviews, which last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. In addition, she will be serving on a subcommittee of the Commission on Public Relations Education, which is charged with making recommendations for public relations ethics curriculum.
“On a typical study, I’ll spend about nine months going through the process of collecting the data, analyzing it, writing the papers, presenting to conferences and submitting to journals,” Neill said. “The second year will be spent preparing reports and writing recommendations based on those findings. While it sounds like a long time, when you think about it from that perspective, there’s a lot involved in doing an in-depth study like this.”
In-depth interviews work well for this type of study, Neill said, because they provide specific examples of dilemmas and how people choose to handle them.
“With qualitative research, you really get an understanding of the decision-making that people go through when faced with an issue and the step-by-step process they take to reach those decisions,” Neill said. “You get that inside scoop into the motivations and reasons for their actions.”
Neill had previously received four grants from the Page Center, which resulted in a book, “Public Relations Ethics: Senior PR Pros Tell Us How to Speak Up and Keep Your Job,” published in 2018, as well as four journal articles, four academic conference papers and two top paper awards. In one of her most recent studies, Neill found that millennials often do not expect to face ethical dilemmas and do not feel prepared to address them.
“There is a need to improve and enhance our ethics training at our colleges and universities, and by tapping in to what is actually happening in the industry, it makes it more relevant and helps better prepare students for some of the issues they will be facing today,” Neill said.
As part of her subcommittee, Neill will gather sample syllabi and other teaching resources from universities across the nation and then share them with different public relations educators to help them prepare to cover ethics in ethics courses, as well as other public relations courses.
Marlene Neill, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Journalism, Public Relations and New Media
Professor Neill's research interests include internal communication, public relations management and ethics