Former Pentagon Press Secretary to Lecture on Campus

February 19, 2020
John Kirby

Media have been called the enemy of the people, but the real enemy is disinformation.

Taking on that enemy of the truth, CNN’s John Kirby will deliver the third annual Allen H. Center Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations on March 10 on campus. With the promise of sharing a battle plan for how all professionals in the media industry—both journalists and public relations practitioners—can counter the attacks of fake news, Kirby will emphasize the importance of solidarity in the media industry.

“Defeating misinformation is not merely the job of journalists or just tasked to public relations professionals protecting their organization,” began SDSU professor Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA. “For the media industry to win this war against the enemy of truth, we have to work together across the media industry.”

Kirby knows both sides of the podium, according to Sweetser.

While Kirby is currently an analyst on CNN, working in the media from the journalistic side, he spent nearly 30 years in uniform as a Navy public affairs officer climbing to the service’s highest ranks. He served as the Navy Chief of Information and the Pentagon press secretary, retiring as a two-star admiral. After retirement, Kirby became the spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

As the sponsor of the annual Center Lecture, the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations looks to Kirby to rally the Southern California media industry against misinformation.

“Ever since the first lecture, we have been talking about changes in the industry from both sides of the podium,” said Sweetser, who serves as the director of the Broom Center. “In 2020, there is no greater threat to the media industry than disinformation and the lack of trust the public has in us. By bringing both journalism and public relations together, we share the burden of restoring credibility for the media.”

The Center Lecture is named in honor of a vanguard of public relations whose career has many similarities to that of Kirby.

Center started his career in public affairs for the U.S. Air Force, and later went on to report for the New York Times and eventually work as the vice president for public relations for Motorola.

Center spent his career as a champion for professionalizing public relations, making professional contributions such as authoring the textbook Center & Cutlip’s Effective Public Relations and showing personal dedication by earning Accreditation in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America.

After retirement, Center began lecturing at SDSU in 1975, teaching public relations courses. In 1981, Center became a distinguished resident lecturer in what was then called the department of journalism at SDSU.

As a founding member of PRSA, Center moved through his long life by looking forward on the horizon. In a speech at the University of Wisconsin in 1964, he said, “We must accept the premise that the role of public relations will continue to be chameleon to its environment and the needs of the times in the future as in the past.”

Center donated an extensive archive, including case studies, professional papers and books to SDSU. The Center archives are now housed in the Broom Center inside the School of Journalism & Media Studies. A selection of the Center archives will be on display on March 10 prior to the Center Lecture.

The Center Lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. on March 10 at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center on campus. RSVP today for the free event to reserve your seat. Free parking is provided, just steps from the lecture.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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