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Public Relations Book Edited by St. John is Award Finalist

Burton St. John III's historical exploration of the art of public relations, appropriately titled "Pathways to Public Relations," was one of three nominees for the prestigious Tankard Book Award for works on mass communications.

But there is more to that nomination than meets the eye.

In the eight years the Tankard Award has been given by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, only books focused on journalism have been finalists.

While a journalism book also captured the latest Tankard, St. John, an associate professor of communications at Old Dominion, is justifiably proud that "Pathways to Public Relations" was in the final conversation.

"The award is given to what's considered by the review panel to be the most significant communications book in the field for that year," St. John said. "This makes a mark in that field. To actually become a finalist for a national award from the AEJMC, that's a very hard road."

St. John co-edited the book, which is a collection of essays from 28 authors across five continents. His fellow editors were Margot Opdycke, of the University of Alabama, and Jacquie L'Etang, of Queen Margaret University in Scotland.

The book goes far beyond the traditional discussion of PR's roots in the American post-Civil War industrial revolution to discussion even of image-shaping strategies used by Roman emperor Claudius to overcome the popular belief he was unfit for the throne.

That unique approach is why the book stands apart and draws attention for expanding the field of PR knowledge, said St. John. "There are plenty of people studying PR for applied measurements, for how we can measure and codify things," St. John said, adding: "This book tries to stay away from that and add a different layer of understanding that not everything can be measured right away."

St. John's expertise comes from deep in the field. He was a public-relations executive for the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis while he pursued his doctorate in American Studies at Saint Louis University. He was recruited temporarily to New Jersey in 2001 to help the Postal Service address issues surrounding anthrax spores in letters that were sent to media outlets and two U.S. senators. Five people died from the attacks.

In fact, crisis communication and ethics is the theme of the book-in-progress St. John is working on with ODU colleague Yvette Pearson, associate professor and chair of philosophy and religious studies. They have collected case studies - most from the last few years - for potential classroom use.

"Most books in PR and crisis communication treat ethical thinking about how to prevent or get through a crisis as an add-on," St. John said. "This book is designed to be like a textbook for adoption in crisis communication classes, which are more and more popular across the nation."

Routledge published "Pathways to Public Relations" as part of its New Directions in Public Relations and Communications Research initiative.

Routledge began the initiative, in part, to deepen analysis of how individuals, institutions and groups have used various rhetorical stances to persuade others to pay attention to, believe in and adopt a course of action.

Previously, St. John has authored two books on public journalism and press propaganda: "Professionalization and Propaganda: The Rise of Journalistic Double-Mindedness," and "Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-Engaged Press." Additionally, he has written book chapters for The Virginian-Pilot's "Co-Pilot Project: Public Journalism 2.0?" and "Legacy: Propaganda, Journalism and the Domestic Struggle over the Commodification of Truth."

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