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Can universities as we know them be brought back to life?

I was a crisis manager and never faced anything like this. Shutting down an entire university is an action with serious implications. It means sending students home in the middle of their classes, somehow accommodating international students and those who can’t go home, radically changing food service, teaching every professor how to conduct classes online, and much more. And what if significant numbers of returning and new faculty, staff and students don’t like the restart? What now?

  1. Some students might find acceptable societal alternatives to high-priced campuses. Going into debt might now seem unnecessary. 
  2. Admissions overall might suffer. New students might also become open to similar alternatives. Serious financial consequences for many institutions would result.
  3. Community colleges might become more attractive. They already offer low-cost certificate and associate degree programs that connect with jobs. Majoring in liberal arts is possible, and some even offer four-year degrees.
  4. Those now working from home might find that it works. The physical plant might be overbuilt.
  5. Many faculty might want to continue teaching all or part of their courses on line. Interactive technology has already made this an enriching possibility. Thus, they might not be as available on campus.
  6. Worldwide Internet connections will be required for relevant teaching and research. Thus, basic subject matter will now have to include global leadership, understanding different cultures, crisis management, citizen diplomacy, foreign policies, violent extremism, and threatening political issues.
  7. Media revolutions already changed everything. So both leaders and followers will need to know how to deal with the pros and cons of social media, new online realities, and a dramatically changed 24/7 journalism.

So after a big shutdown, accommodating changing behaviors and expectations will be a challenge for restarting every campus. Some might be innovative enough to pull it off, but many others might not.  

Sometimes more information is not better.

Recent media revolutions created an information overload, which also created a growing fog of confusion. For example, the President announced anyone can get a virus test who wants one, but that did not play out to be true. Later he announced that quality masks are being made available to doctors, but front-line healthcare workers disputed that. Six or more weeks ago he was saying the virus is a hoax, and now he is claiming he is a war-time president. And the beat goes on…

The world is full of misinformation, and partisan political leaders are often generating it. So maybe 24/7 news channels should stop covering presidential press conferences and political statements live. Maybe professional journalists should attend these events for us, and then report only what is true and helpful. Maybe they should concentrate only on content experts.

As I explained in a previous post, constant lying and bully behavior caused this president to lose his communication credibility a long time ago. Even his supporters know this. Once lost, credibility can never be earned during a crisis. And what makes matters worse, this president believes the chaos he generates works to his advantage… and he may be right.

The future of professional journalism is at stake right now. So will news organizations make good decisions about how they report critical issues and crises, or will they bow to current temptations to fill 24/7 schedules with live political events that produce good ratings?

Or put another way: In this horrible crisis will they choose reality TV-type opportunities, or will they make content choices that restore public trust?

 

 

Without credibility there simply is no believable communication.

When any CEO accumulates a history of lies, and makes daily statements that don’t ring true, credibility might sometimes be suspended for a while. Supporters try to accomplish this by saying, “Don’t take his tweets seriously, many of his policies are good.” But when self-serving statements such as “only I can handle this,” are constantly added in, many people begin to worry about what might happen in a crisis.

Learning on the job about big issues is required of all leaders. When the choice is to try to talk without knowledge, statements often turn out to be untrue. Even when reading from a prepared text, vocal tone will sound hollow, and even added personal comments will sound off the mark.

Make no mistake, credibility is never earned in a crisis. Falsehoods about issues such as climate change, military attacks, border closings, diseases, foreign countries, past administrations, and anything else will accumulate over time… and needed public trust will simply not be there when it’s needed most.

Acting out long-standing ignorance during a crisis is unbearable to watch… and holding daily press conferences to try to look in change and blame others will never work.

“Relationship Marketing” might be Biden’s secret sauce…

Relationship Marketing involves building relationships with individuals and groups to establish and sustain visible loyalty. It begins with identifying specific individuals and groups that mean the most to an organization or cause, and then determining the most effective communication platforms and tools to use to acquire their active support.

Super Tuesday turned out to be a good example of Relationship Marketing 101.

This is what happened. Basically, African Americans are an important and growing constituency of the Democratic Party. In the South Carolina primary, Joe Biden’s long career earned him the support of one of the most influential politicians in the state, who also happened to be black. That was enough to start a momentum ball rolling, which quickly attracted the support of several other presidential candidates, key democrats, and traditional party leaders. Watching this kind of dynamic develop amazed all the pundits. But this is how relationship marketing can work. It soon became apparent that Super Tuesday could very well end in a two-candidate run for the White House.

But to keep the momentum ball rolling, the Biden campaign will now need to add the support of other political leaders, small businesses, labor unions, health organizations, civic groups, professional associations, and local civil servants. These groups and leaders also represent most of middle America, which truly is the heart of the Democratic Party. This should also cut into the president’s base, which so far seems to have forgiven his failure to deliver on his quality-of-life promises.

Effectively using these groups and individuals, boldly articulating a future for America, showing heart-felt passion, looking and acting presidential, debating adversaries skillfully, being totally prepared to handle each criticism no matter what, and demonstrating experienced organization and teamwork… all of these these will be absolutely necessary for success in November.

And really, this is not too much to expect of any presidential campaign… is it?

In a social media dominated world, here is the way it works when an ill-equipped government is in place:

  1. First, when a new administration really believes government is too big, it needs to be careful where and who it cuts.
  2. Brutal budget and staff cuts in agencies that are depended on to manage crises, especially health related ones, are big mistakes.
  3. And when the people in that administration are there primarily because of their loyalty, and not their expertise, they will always be inclined to underplay the possibility of any crisis.
  4. Inexperienced staff and supporters will always model their leader’s tactics. Thus, today they will rush to criticize the traditional news media, and use extreme talk radio, supportive pundits, and social media to attack their political opposition.
  5. And when the truth about the danger of any crisis situation finally gets out, as it inevitably does, without the necessary experience and enough expertise on board and ready… everything crashes.

Those who have been saying, “Everyone knows the president lies and makes-up stuff every day… that’s just him,” will now feel the serious consequences of “only I can do it” leadership.

Yes, it’s true that our new digital and social media world is what allowed this to come about. The big lesson now is that we can never let this happen again.

Confrontational questions, limited time for responses, previously promoted arguments, and the use of cameras to enhance the dramatic potential of the situation, is how television makes it all feel super exciting. But to what extent have these television debates simply become more “reality TV?”

Film critics long ago pointed out that when cameras are pointed at any event, the primary producer, or “author,” is actually creating a whole new reality. These critics pointed out that what is not shown simply doesn’t exist for the viewer. But, people who are actually at the event are able to determine their own reality.

In other words, whoever points the cameras becomes the “author” of a totally different experience. “I am seeing it with my own eyes,” can make it seem real… but the cameras are really creating their own reality.

Making dramatic moving pictures is the very heart of television. It does not like details, and hates boring talk, Rather it prefers images, which will always lead to more drama. Authors, producers and directors almost instinctively use editing, pacing, camera movements, sound enhancements, colorful backgrounds, and picture montages, to capture audience attention… and keep it.

And with respect to the last debate, what about the topics (foreign policy, role of allies, defense guardrails, immigration, autocratic presidential behavior, etc,) that were never addressed? TV debates have all the elements of reality TV… and serious issues will usually be slighted.

 

When someone enters a primary election late, or when a candidate begins to emerge as significant, the news media will naturally begin to investigate their past. News professionals will describe this practice as essential and responsible journalism. But it’s also great “copy!” Aggressively investigating the past of political candidates always energizes the business side of news.

It is therefore very important for media consumers to understand that the same media revolutions that created our current state of chaos and confusion will also make it impossible to be sure that investigative journalism will uncover the “real truth” about the past.

Choosing the most reliable information sources possible has become critically important. After all, it’s possible that past transgressions were settled at the time, and times do change. And some people really do learn from their mistakes.

No matter how many viewers, listeners, readers, and “profits” these investigative news reports generate, in a world of ongoing media revolutions we can never be sure we are learning the whole truth. Getting “close” is the best we can do… and we must even work at that.