The Different Tunes of PR and Journalism

Public relations and journalism are two forms of writing that at first glance could be placed under the same umbrella. But in reality, their intentions are very different.

If I as a PR professional were to write a press release or something to advertise an upcoming music festival, I would want to make this music festival look as good as it possibly can. The responsibility of a public relations team is to make sure the image of their organization stays clean.

In the journalism world, however, it is much more acceptable and encouraged to delve into facts that may do damage to organizations. Journalists shouldn’t be worried about the image of the group that they are investigating. That would lead to a bias, and the whole truth wouldn’t be told.

For example, if I was a journalist and I heard that one of the headlining bands of that music festival may be involved in a fishy scandal, I would rush to find all the facts and even potentially ruin the image of the music festival. In that situation as a PR professional, I would most likely talk to my team about replacing the band before their troubles are associated with our music festival.

An example of great PR can be seen in the website for the band Greta Van Fleet: a band that formed out of Frankenmouth, MI. A website is a great way to make your organization/client look good. This website specifically is very easy to navigate, visually appealing, and gives the band a sleek look. Check it out here.

An example of how journalism can be harshly honest in comparison can be found in an article about Detroit native Eminem’s recent return to the music scene. It questions whether he will be welcomed by his fans since he is jumping into a completely new world of music than when he left it. They are not slow to imply that he may not be relevant anymore.

Photojournalism Ethics

With the range of events that are happening across the globe, journalists often find themselves in positions where they are dealing with sensitive topics in foreign environments. Since photography is so strongly associated with journalism, many photojournalists often find themselves in situations where their photos can perpetuate a certain stereotype of that environment. Photojournalists John Moore and Paul Nevin both have examples of stories that reveal how stereotypes can either be subtly revealed or avoided by photojournalism.

John Moore
From the articles that I read, it seemed that John Moore’s coverage told the story of a country that is unable to handle the Ebola outbreak since they are so underdeveloped. That narrative obviously is something we have heard over and over, enough that we Americans have probably gotten used to it and established that stereotype of those countries in our heads as reality.

The video included in the article focused on his photos that primarily held darkness, violence, tragedy, poverty, and death in the foreground. It even played along with sad piano music. Even though the Ebola outbreak is a terrible thing, there was no focus on how the Liberians were handling it themselves or what progress was made. It mostly seemed like white men were coming in and valiantly doing their best to save a doomed country.

In her TED Talk about the dangers of single stories perpetuating stereotypes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about how these false ideas are formed.

“The single story creates stereotype and the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete,” said Adichie. “They make one story become the only story.”

Although Moore was doing good work by attracting attention to the seriousness of the situation, he still perpetuated the African stereotype.

Paul Nevin
Paul Nevin did a better job of avoiding the stereotypes with the Kenyans than Moore did with the Liberians mentioned above. Though there were still issues (the title implies helplessness in the country), Nevin showed the strides that people are taking to improve birth rates in their country.

It has a significantly more optimistic and light tone, and provides plenty of statistics instead of biased observations. The photos also don’t perpetuate the stereotype of African countries only holding violence and death.

The article shows a more personalized and even comedic side. The last photo with the woman holding the fake baby in place for the practice birth is in itself poignant, but will also make you smile. The photo of the woman and her child smiling also brings much more heart to the article.

The article also does a great job of representing and describing PRONTO International. After spending some time on their website, I could see that Nevin described the group accurately. The website states itself:

“We use highly realistic simulation and debriefing to train functional teams in effective communicate and practice change.”

Comparing the Two
Both of these journalists were covering these stories for good reasons. They both wanted to draw attention to what was happening in these countries to bring beneficial change.

Both of these journalists took advantage of their environment and took some very powerful images that portrayed their stories and angles very accurately. In every photo, you can tell there’s a fascinating story behind it.

Even though Moore didn’t quite avoid perpetuating the destitute Africa stereotype, the necessary changes are being made within journalism to portray a more accurate image of African countries, as shown through Paul Nevin’s story.

Cultivating Coffeehouse: A Profile on Sydney Sabbagha

You’re not likely to find Sydney Sabbagha playing live music in front of an audience. Instead, you’ll find her behind the scenes, orchestrating what musicians makes it onto the stage.

Hope College’s Student Activities Committee, or SAC, runs a wide range of campus events, and one of those is Coffeehouse. Coffeehouse takes place in the Bultman Student Center Great Room, and features college students for an hour-long set as they play for their peers as they socialize and study.

Sabbagha is a co-director for Coffeehouse. She makes sure that all of the performances go off without a hitch. The position has many benefits for a music enthusiast like Sydney, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t busy.

Coffeehouse is a weekly event that happens every Thursday night at Hope College. That means that there are nearly thirty performances over the course of the year. Even more, there are two acts per night, so Sydney and her Coffeehouse team have to track down sixty acts for their weekly event. That’s not an easy feat.

“We usually do [auditions] at the beginning of the semester,” said Sabbagha as she sat in the Student Life office preparing a string of lights for that night’s performance. “A lot of new students come in… it’s just so fun to watch them play.”

During an average Thursday night, you’ll find Sydney preparing for the night’s performance before any audience member has even sat in their seats. She is the correspondence between the technical staff and the talent, making sure that there are no miscommunications. Once the musicians have done their sound check, she and her other co-directors are will step up to the mic and give a welcome to the already packed room, and give a brief introduction to the performer. Following that, Sydney will float around between socializing, doing homework, checking in with the sound technicians, and talking with the performers.

Since it is a tradition that has been happening at Hope for many years, Coffeehouse is one of the most popular and consistently attended events on campus. Sydney has been a co-director for the past two years. This has meant that she has managed the transition from having the performances in the intimate coffee-shop-like venue of The Kletz to the massive performance space in the new Bultman Student Center.

With new tech challenges and having to set up many more chairs and tables, this was a large transition for the Coffeehouse team. But Sydney and her co-directors were successful in adjusting to the brand new space. They have even gone above and beyond in their marketing, designing an appealing new logo and distributing it far and wide on posters and stickers.


Sydney appreciates the ability to do an event like Coffeehouse every week. She knows it is something special, and knows it has a lot to do with the size and culture of the college.

“If we were at a huge school, I don’t think it would have the intimate setting of a Coffeehouse that we have every week,” said Sabbagha. “It’s such a unique thing.”

See upcoming Coffeehouse performances on the Hope College calendar.


Live From My Living Room

This past few weeks, I have been delving into the trend of “house concerts”, live musical performances in tiny venues. I’ve been able to talk with a variety of people that have had experiences with these kinds of performances, and I’ve even been able to host one myself.

At the beginning of last week, I invited a total of 24 friends to my house for a tiny concert at 6:00 on Wednesday October 3. I was pleasantly surprised by the quick response from a few of them; they sounded excited about this concept.

Something that I really appreciate about house concerts is that they are just so chill compared to large venue performances. It’s possible to invite your friends last minute, and they’ll fill up your tiny venue and be great audience members. I wasn’t even nervous for my performance because I knew all these people so well. I suppose that is something I could have challenged myself with- I could have invited people I didn’t know.

I started preparing for the concert 20 minutes before it started, where I basically just cleaned the living room and arranged the furniture a little differently to accommodate for a performance area. Again… very chill.

My wonderful musical partner Kierney arrived, and we quickly created a setlist with songs that we already partially knew. It would have been difficult to do this performance without such a dependable and adaptable artist. That’s something I really appreciate and respect about talented musicians, especially those with experience in improvising folk music. A great example of this adaptability and talent is Nickel Creek’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which you can check out here.

People trickled in, and the first song we played was, funnily enough, a suggestion from the audience. My friend Gracen couldn’t stay long, but she wanted to hear a Green Day song. So we pulled up the chords on my laptop and gave it our best shot, and it worked better than I expected.

I had 10 people total come through and sit down for a couple songs, some leaving early and some coming late. I played for 45 minutes and was able to finish of the set with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with which I expected most people would sing along to. I wasn’t disappointed. My roommate even broke out his harmonica which led to a lot of laughs.

It’s not often that one invites a bunch of people into your house to watch you play music. But after doing it last week, I would totally do it again. I would prepare more songs, and would try to gather more musicians to turn it into more of a jam session. That way, we can really bring the house down. Get it?

Tres Vidas

This past Friday, I went to see the musical/theatrical performance of Tres Vidas in the DeWitt theatre. It was a good refresher of how much live music can add to an artistic piece.

Over the summer, I was lucky enough to work for Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. This allowed me to spend a lot of my time in the room with extremely talented musicians and actors doing their best work, while elevating each other as they performed.

Tres Vidas was the first time I had been back in that theatre since seeing musical juggernauts like Godspell and The Wiz. And it was quite funny to compare the two experiences visually, as Tres Vidas had the most minimalist set: a chair and a table. And the musical instruments were sort of strewn around the stage without much order. But as I watched this single performer as she inhabited the lives of three notable Latin American women, I realized that these two different types of performances had a very important thing in common- good live music supporting the actor.

It may seem obvious, but I have seen many theatrical performances with music that is either pre-recorded or performed by amateurs. There is a night and day difference when the musicians that support the actors have some chops.

The musicians that performed in Tres Vidas (Ju Young Lee: cello, Mikael Darmanie: piano, Michael Parola: percussion), have clearly been doing these types of performances for a long time. They provided so much depth to the performance. Honestly, I believe that they made the performance worth it. If it was just the actress, I would have had trouble engaging with the material. But like in a movie, the musicians created so much power with their musical skills and brought the story to new heights.

More information can be found about the Core Ensemble at their website:


A “Note” About This Blog

Forgive the musical pun in the title. There will, however, be plenty more in the future.

Welcome to my blog! Over the next few months, this is where I’m going to be sharing my thoughts about music on and around Hope College’s campus. “What kind of music?” you may ask. I plan to cover music from all angles, whether that be learning more about the culture of the Hope Music Department, covering live concerts put on by the SAC concert series, or catching a small unknown group’s performance at New Holland Brewing Co.

“Why music?” you may ask. This is an important time in our history to focus on the musical artist. We live in a culture that seems to be driven by domination, frustration and stress. In the midst of all this chaos, we find the musician, who knows best how remind us of the fundamental beauty of life. They pour their souls into our earbuds, challenging us to see beyond the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day. I find it a very inspiring fact that these people dedicate themselves to reconciling the tension between the dark and the light in these days where our news feed saps away at our optimism. They turn all this craziness into art that all of us can easily consume. And these people aren’t guaranteed a hearty paycheck in return. That’s valiant.

“What are your goals for this blog?” you may ask, to which I may ask you to stop asking me questions in the middle of my first blog. I hope to inform the people who read this about the good work that local musicians are doing. And if things go well, I would love for my efforts to get more people interested in music in general.

While I have not committed to being a full-time musician, I have played music for most of my life. I have a lot of friends here at Hope that have made that decision to follow their talents and dreams in music. I believe that my passion for music along with my various connections will be very helpful in my coverage of music here at Hope.