Another Troubling Hit to Transparency
In a disturbing sign of a further retreat from transparency, CEDIA has notified Strata-gee that it will no longer accept any interviews. This policy appears to apply only to Strata-gee, and no reason was given…at least initially.
Will this new policy inhibit Strata-gee’s ability to cover CEDIA? Read on…
On June 7th, we received an email from Cris Pyle, CEDIA’s Senior Director of Marketing, in response to questions we left on her voicemail. In that email, Pyle asked us to send those questions “in writing,” saying, “I’ll get back to you.” This was an unusual response, normally phone calls to Pyle were responded to by return call.
However, although completely perplexed by this message, we complied and sent the email shown below.
OK, as per your request that I submit questions in writing, here are my questions. For the record, this is the first time – ever – that CEDIA has asked me to submit questions in writing. I naturally assume that you are making this a requirement for all inquiries from any media source.
Here are my immediate questions:
1. Why are you asking me to submit questions in writing?
2. Earlier today, CEDIA put out a release in which it talked about the increased participation in this year’s CEDIA Awards program. Wasn’t that to be expected, given that this is the first year where the organization was a unified global group? Isn’t that a natural outcome of the recent international expansion? Or am I missing something?
3. When we last spoke, you promised to see if the last members’ meeting webinar or online conference was recorded and archived, such that I could view it. What did you discover?
4. After I received your email regarding the upcoming directors meetings, which members are allowed to attend, I received an email from Dennis Erskine saying he preferred, “for security purposes” that I not reveal the “locations,” and that they would be provided to anyone who asked to attend. I found that to be an unusual and illogical request. I can see no logical reason why, for example, revealing that this month’s meeting is in London provides any kind of realistic security risk. I’m not revealing the site of the meeting and the meeting room number…only the name of the city.
So I’m asking for clarification and confirmation that the organization is actually insisting that the name of the city where the directors meeting will take place may not be revealed.
I appreciate your quick response on these short questions.
Then, in response to our written questions, instead of the promised written response we actually received a phone call from Pyle. In this long phone call, we learned answers to some of those questions, and a lot about the situation between CEDIA and Strata-gee. I’d love to share all of this with you, as Pyle raised some good and legitimate questions about Strata-gee’s coverage.
Have Received Some Answers
However, I can’t share any of this with you, because in true CEDIA fashion, Pyle would only speak with us on the condition that the entire conversation would remain “off the record.” However, I can tell you that we did learn that from this point on, if Strata-gee had any questions for Chairman Erskine, or anyone else connected with CEDIA leadership, we have been instructed to supply these questions in writing and…they’ll get back to us, in writing.
Subsequent to this phone call, we did receive a link to the archived members meeting webinar we asked about from September 2016 – conducted literally the week before the CEDIA2016 show. We have reviewed the content of that webinar including the financial “results” the leadership presented to the members. Suffice it to say that the financial information was very high-level – just top line totals – that really don’t reveal much about how the organization is doing.
We CAN (and Do) Reveal Board Meeting Locations
Also, we later received clearance from CEDIA to be able to tell you the locations of the Directors Meetings currently scheduled. We can now tell you that the June 27th Directors Meeting will be taking place in London, England; and the November 11-12 Directors Meeting will be taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Remember, if you are a CEDIA member, you have the right to attend these meetings. If you would like to do so, you should contact CEDIA headquarters to make the necessary arrangements. You can do that by emailing them here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Pyle’s assertion that going forward, CEDIA was requiring Strata-gee to submit questions in writing, we then sent another set of questions on June 9, and to which we received Dennis Erskine’s responses on June 12,which were simply appended to our original email, as shown below. [NOTE: The text below is copied and pasted from the original email. We have removed personal contact information and highlighted Erskine’s responses in red to clearly delineate them from the original text.]
Hi Ted, see below. Attributable to Dennis.
Senior Director of Marketing
7150 Winton Dr., Ste. 300 | Indianapolis, IN | 46268
www.cedia.net | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn
From: Ted Green
Sent: Friday, June 9, 2017 12:57 PM
To: Cris Pyle
Subject: RE: questions
OK…this process raises even more questions.
Why has the organization decided it can no longer speak directly with the media? Or will it speak openly with all media except Strata-gee?
We are requesting questions and answers in writing with Strata-gee to ensure accuracy in CEDIA’s comments.
Are you implying that Dennis and you did not accurately express the CEDIA viewpoint?
Or rather, are you implying that Strata-gee’s coverage is misquoting Dennis and yourself?
We just want to make sure everything is communicated as clearly, concisely and accurately as possible.
If the case is as expressed in #3 above, then please provide me with the specific examples and I will re-check my notes. I am incredibly careful about any statements that I represent as the words of the interviewee, but I am human and can make mistakes. If after checking my notes, that is the case, I will publish a correction or retraction.
If the case is as in #2, then let’s conduct an interview where you correct what you had originally intended to say. If materially different, I am only too happy to run this corrected version.
At one point in our last interview, Dennis said the organization’s “only” obligation is to provide members with an IRS 990. Does the organization provide a 990 to all members?
CEDIA has many obligations to its members—helping to build prosperity in the channel through connection, networking and education; to represent/lobby on our members’ behalf on legislation that would impact their business; to provide forwarding looking insight and education, tools and support; to name a few.
This is specific to a legal obligation of financial disclosure of the association. We do not send a 990 to all members, however we are happy to provide if a member requests it. We conduct a member webinar each year where we also go through the the projected financials, programs from the year prior, and what to look forward to in the coming year.
If not, how do interested members obtain current copies of CEDIA’s 990s? (I’m getting inquiries from CEDIA members.)
Members with any information request should reach out to us. We are happy to speak to our members directly.
If your response is through Guidestar, that would mean that members have to buy their copy. Is that what CEDIA and/or the IRS requires?
P.S. BTW, I have three concerns with this new and unusual process (which I have with NO other organization): 1) It feels to me as though the organization is once again defaulting to careful, fully vetted, legally accurate responses…rather than just honestly answering the questions that members have; and 2) FYI, I will likely have to report this unusual process to my readers…; and 3) It is much easier for both of us to misinterpret written communications than verbal ones.
Please provide me with a direct quote from either Dennis or Cris (or both) as to why this unusual process with Strata-gee was deemed necessary by CEDIA.
I highly recommend you reconsider this policy. You could otherwise address your concerns by having two participants in each interview, as we did in the last instance. That way, if either of you misspeaks, the other can step in and correct the record.
Erskine’s Response Inaccurate
At this point, I need to point out that Erskine’s written response to our question about the distribution of the IRS Form 990 contains a statement that is inaccurate. As you can clearly see above, Erskine says that during the members webinar, the Association will “go through the projected financials, programs from the year prior, and what to look forward to in the coming year.”
This is simply not true. In the webinar, they only show the top line revenue figure and the top line expense totals. These are not the Associations financials – there is no Income Statement (sometimes referred to as a Profit and Loss or P&L), there is no Balance Sheet, and there is no Cash Flow analysis…or even any version of these.
As far as the other assertions he made, I’ll leave it to those CEDIA members that attended that webinar to decide if they feel it was as comprehensive as he suggests. However, to be fair, there was a lot of material presented by multiple executives. But none of the major initiatives that have transpired this year, such as the globalization initiative, the sale of the show, the building of a new headquarters, or the major staff cutbacks were discussed.
Is This the End of Strata-gee’s CEDIA Coverage?
So will this new process prevent Strata-gee from being able to present a balanced perspective on our CEDIA coverage – or even to be able to cover CEDIA at all? We’d have to say, it makes it much more challenging. But we will still be able to work our sources to do our best to give more robust coverage, beyond simply CEDIA’s press releases.
We should also say that we reached out to CEDIA to suggest they provide a response to some of the issues raised by the 37 commenters (as of the time of this writing) to our story, CEDIA Chairman Corrects Us: Members are NOT the Owners. While some commenters raised issues that would be difficult to respond to, others raised issues that would be quite simple for the organization to address.
Unfortunately, they declined our offer. And, we can’t tell you why – because that too was part of an off-the-record discussion.