ORLANDO, FL: The Orlando Sentinel's public fight to obtain autopsy
photos of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt has forced the paper to hire Hill
& Knowlton to help with highly sensitive community and media
Facing what a spokeswoman said was the most media attention she can
recall in the newspaper's history, the Sentinel will use H&K's Tampa and
Chicago offices to aid with issues surrounding the fight, which may
result in state legislation.
Earnhardt died in a crash at last month's Daytona 500.
The Sentinel, which does not have an agency of record but has worked
with H&K on other projects, hired the agency the day after Earnhardt's
widow, Teresa, made her first public statement since her husband's
Mrs. Earnhardt has vociferously opposed releasing the autopsy photos,
saying it would be an invasion of privacy. The Sentinel responded to the
statement, saying it has no intention to publish the photos but wants to
study them to try to determine cause of death and improve NASCAR driver
safety. A Sentinel campaign has been lobbying for the use of new head
restraints. Both parties have been court-ordered to attend
At Teresa Earnhardt's suggestion, a member of the Florida senate has
proposed a bill to change Florida's government laws to make autopsy
pictures confidential. Ashley Allen, director of corporate
communications for the Sentinel, said H&K is not involved in lobbying,
but is assisting the newspaper's efforts to get news into and out of
Tallahassee, the state capital.
Allen, the only in-house PR person at the Sentinel, said she is fielding
calls from regional and national media. The paper has also covered the
situation in its own news pages.
The Sentinel has sent out a press release detailing media and
professional associations that support its position. Also, to correct
constituent misinformation, editor Tim Franklin wrote an open letter
responding to what he said were hundreds of e-mails and calls from
people who mistakenly believed the paper would print the autopsy photos
if it got them.
Marcia Austin, SGM at H&K Tampa said the office has committed 'several'
people from its 20-person staff to the Sentinel account