Syracuse PR Students Get Advice from PR Guy Later Arrested at Syracuse

Syracuse's Newhouse School sent PR students for career advice from 5W's ethics-embattled Ronn Torossian. Months later, Syracuse arrested him.

Here’s a head-scratcher from the previous week:

The question is intriguing, given 1) Mr. Torossian’s well-documented history with ethics problems in 2022 (and even prior), 2) Mr. D’Angelo’s clear knowledge of that history, and 3) the news just this week that Mr. Torossian was arrested on the Syracuse campus for alleged campus-demonstration issues… juxtaposed with the also-breaking news that Mr. D’Angelo inexplicably allowed PR students at Newhouse to seek out PR career advice from Mr. Torossian, only a few months ago.

Most everyone in the PR industry knows that Mr. Torossian and his New York PR firm, 5WPR – or simply “5W,” as it’s now known – came under fire about two years ago for setting up a “masked,” fake “independent” news site, built to puff up 5W and slam competitors without disclosure of the site’s ownership, according to industry reports:

Mega-agency Edelman PR’s Richard Edelman said he was “stunned and nauseated” by the Torossian “Everything-PR” scandal, and many others in the industry also condemned Mr. Torossian’s actions.

Some PRSA members I know quite rightly openly questioned why PRSA National wasn’t issuing a comment itself.

Even PRSA’s then-chair of its Board of Ethics & Professional Standards was relegated to mere “observer” status on the issue, as apparently told by PRSA’s national leadership to stand-down on making any detailed comments on behalf of PRSA:

As then covered in the PR trade media, PRSA’s local New York Chapter interjected the odd caveat for the record that their local chapter’s own “condemnation does not mean that 5WPR or its employees are banned from the PRSA” (God forbid, PRSA should miss out on a dues-revenue opportunity from a firm being publicly condemned for ethics violations).  

For his part, Mr. Torossian publicly apologized for the infraction, according to PRWeek. While prior news reports claimed 5W is not a member of PRSA (presuming none of its employees are members), the firm is allowed by PRSA a “company profile” on the PRSA Jobcenter site in order to seek out new hires (ancillary PRSA revenue, as noted).

Fast-forward to 2024:

This interaction was confirmed by a Syracuse spokesperson:

Then, in a new twist to the situation widely reported just this past week, Syracuse University had Mr. Torossian arrested while on campus while he was advocating for Israel during campus protests:

PRWeek reported on May 8, 2024, that Syracuse University had Mr. Torossian arrested by campus safety officers, for an alleged verbal exchange while Mr. Torossian was on campus, tied to his pro-Israel advocacy.

According to news reports, Mr. Torossian’s adult child also attends Syracuse, and Mr. Torossian claims to have numerous Syracuse / Newhouse grads working on his PR agency staff (I was able to find at least one former one, on LinkedIn).

Mr. D’Angelo himself was quoted in a Crain’s New York Business story on February 16, 2022, which exposed that Mr. Torossian’s “High-powered PR firm secretly bought an industry news site to tout itself, bash rivals.”

Newhouse created a spotlight of the story as a “Media Hit” on the Newhouse website:

As such, there’s absolutely no way that Mr. D’Angelo wasn’t previously aware of Mr. Torossian’s record and the firm’s prior exploits, so he cannot claim ignorance.

Which begs the question further:

As mentioned, according to a Syracuse spokesperson, Syracuse’s Newhouse School purposely sent their own PR students to engage with Mr. Torossian’s PR firm in New York, 5W, to get career advice from none other than Mr. Torossian himself.

Perhaps similar questions could be asked of Mr. D’Angelo, given his own history. And in case there’s any doubt what those specific questions should be, I’ll go ahead and ask some:

  • Does Mr. D’Angelo now support Mr. Torossian’s ethics violations, to the extent that he is willing to send largely unknowledgeable and unsuspecting Newhouse PR students to take Mr. Torossian’s career advice during NYC agency meet-and-greets, in addition to placing Newhouse PR students — mostly women — in jobs at the PR firm, so that young professionals are subjected to required compliance with Mr. Torossian’s directives?
  • Or, does Mr. D’Angelo view Mr. Torossian and his ethics issues as PR anathema, but interacting with 5W is just a cost of doing business in the region, for which he’s willing to bend his otherwise stated values?
  • Was there a particular reason Syracuse was keen to arrest Mr. Torossian and (apparently?) spread the word to news media everywhere across the Greater Tri-State area, from campus newspaper The Daily Orange to The New York Times? Or, if Syracuse wasn’t the entity behind such strangely vast coverage of this one arrest, then who was?

Syracuse / Newhouse’s Mr. D’Angelo – who notably does not hold a Ph.D. and has no academic credentials cited at this time on his Newhouse online bio — recently was made head of the Newhouse PR academic program.

Without clear rationale, this piece of Syracuse University news — of only local campus and alumni interest at best — was nothing short of trumpeted across all PRSA National social media platforms just days ago, on May 2, despite the fact that PRSA never touts other members’ or former leaders’ own random job promotions in equitable fashion.

As for the lack of Mr. D’Angelo’s own academic credentials, his promotion at Newhouse essentially means he himself is outranked via higher credentials and publishing track records by many other Newhouse academicians now apparently being forced to report to him.

A PR academic colleague of mine — one who does have his Ph.D. — wrote on an online discussion board in response to PRSA’s tweet hyping Mr. D’Angelo, “There are lots of PRSA members who are department chairs (and actually PhDs with long publication records). Why mention this one? Former member of the board cabal.

I couldn’t agree more… except that bit about the “former” part. Cabal memberships in PRSA are kind of like the mafia… pretty much for life.

I don’t expect the PR industry to get much of an answer to my logical questions, beyond Mr. D’Angelo playing his customary victim card in the matter.

  • Mr. D’Angelo told me directly in 2017 – in writing, via an e-mail on the Syracuse University server – that his wildly errant predecessor as PRSA National Chair was an “ineffective” and “poor” communicator and that her improper, bullying behaviors toward me were “ill-considered and offensive” and that he himself found dealing with her “challenging, difficult, and painful.”
  • Mr. D’Angelo then reversed course in 2018, while he served as PRSA National Chair himself. He suddenly began mis-describing his predecessor on PRSA’s public forums as some kind of standard-bearer of PR ethics and professionalism. He publicly threatened a colleague of mine and me in the PR trade press with PRSA “legal action,” after we began advocating for bylaws-driven ethics reform in PRSA. Mr. D’Angelo’s retaliation occurred after we exposed PRSA’s paid contract with ethics-embattled Wells Fargo, which was being fronted by a past PRSA Chair, Del Galloway, employed by the disgraced bank (and whom Mr. D’Angelo called his “mentor” and personally endowed to him PRSA’s highest honor, the Gold Anvil, in 2018).
  • Mr. D’Angelo knowingly gave false information to trade media that Del Galloway “at no time exerted any influence on the pre-existing relationship PRSA had with Wells Fargo,” even though PRSA Board meeting minutes clearly documented Mr. Galloway’s role in fronting Wells Fargo’s investment services account-management for PRSA during a PRSA Board meeting in 2017 that Mr. D’Angelo himself attended, according to the minutes. This purposely false, misleading, and egregious action alone by Mr. D’Angelo should have seen Mr. D’Angelo dismissed not only from PRSA leadership but also from any access to ever “teaching” PR students, ever again. But instead of being held to account, Mr. D’Angelo was rewarded, both by PRSA and back in his day job at Newhouse.
  • Simultaneous to his leading a governance travesty in 2018 to defeat PRSA ethics-reform bylaw proposals, Mr. D’Angelo’s leadership team claimed to the 2018 PRSA Leadership Assembly in Austin, Texas that PRSA’s finances were looking just fine. In fact, 2018 Assembly meeting minutes document that Mr. D’Angelo’s team told hundreds of PRSA voting delegates that “PRSA forecasts a modest surplus for 2018.” But more than a year later, PRSA’s prior financial statement for 2018 was changed — retroactively and unannounced – to reflect a sudden and unexplained loss of some $415,000 in member dollars (this was pre-pandemic, mind you). Neither Mr. D’Angelo nor anyone else ever provided reasonable explanation why the loss was wholly incurred within PRSA’s “Professional Services” expense category. (“Professional services” for what? To whom? And why was it hidden?)

(To this day, no one is allowed to know precisely where this money went. Ever since then, PRSA Inc. has been awash in documented financial discrepancies and annual mis-reporting / under-reporting of required financial data to its governance Assembly, in non-compliance with New York law… arguably a D’Angelo “legacy” to PRSA’s members, for which he was awarded PRSA’s Patrick Jackson Award last year.)

  • Throughout subsequent years, I reported PRSA’s financial discrepancies internally to PRSA, then later, externally, after my questions and concerns received persistent stonewalling by Mr. D’Angelo and many others in leadership. Ultimately, PRSA retaliated against me by direct, written request of Mr. D’Angelo and others… in a move that violated New York’s state laws on not-for-profit whistleblower protection and anti-retaliation. The matter has resided for years now with the New York Attorney General’s office.
  • It also should be noted that PRSA’s CFO is a Syracuse grad, which might also help explain why PRSA gives Mr. D’Angelo such outsized favors, like pumping up his profile on PRSA social media platforms and giving Mr. D’Angelo awards that further pump up Newhouse’s profile, even in light of D’Angelo’s prior record of problems, which has been reported and documented copiously to PRSA, but, of course, is ignored.

Sadly, accolades diverted to Mr. D’Angelo’s benefit and others in the PRSA cabal mean that ethical PRSA members and academicians who actually deserve praise and recognition for their valuable work are left twisting in the wind, widely unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Many fear PRSA’s retaliation. And believe me — they should.

After all, such was Mr. D’Angelo’s own reprimand of Mr. Torossian in that much-ballyhooed Crain’s story, with Mr. D’Angelo pontificating from on high the great virtues of “disclosure.” In my vast, personal experience, Mr. D’Angelo thinks such rules apply to everyone but him, and believe me, he’s the last one to disclose it.

So, when it comes back to this issue of Syracuse’s and the Newhouse School’s strange on-again / off-again relationship (or non-relationship) with Mr. Torossian, I have to say, when it comes to these particular university / industry relations… maybe these folks deserve each other.


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