Archive for March, 2014

No communication medium ever totally disappears. When a new medium becomes dominant, the roles of the others change.  So in this day of new and social media, what is happening to print?

Over the past ten years the challenge for institutions has been to determine which new media are most effective, and what are the implications for continued large investments in print publications. Truthfully, there is little reliable data on social media effectiveness, mostly because use patterns appear to be changing every day. And there are also different use patterns for each audience.

Nonetheless, there are some generalizations we can make that might be useful:

1. With regard to digital technology, searching websites is clearly a preferred method for finding detailed information, and social media can be extremely effective in motivating widespread response.

2. With regard to print, publications are still effective as tangible symbols of institutional commitments… tangible because constituents can feel a visceral connection by holding them in their hands, and they can then display them on their coffee tables and elsewhere as a way to let others know the pride they feel in that connection.

For example, in the university world (or even corporate world), a colorful general brochure can still be an important tangible connection with, and commitment to, an institution. In this new media environment, however, what has changed is that a brochure’s art and design is almost more important  than its’ content. This is because compelling photography or illustration can stand in “virtual” place of the institution itself, and text now is best used to “drive” readers (or brochure “skimmers”) to the website for more in-depth information.

In addition, in our new media world a magazine can also serve as a regularly appearing tangible symbol of an audience’s identification with an organization. Cut-lines allow readers to skim content, and well-designed and illustrated covers reinforce the brand. And so, just as the four-color general brochure,  displaying that magazine becomes an additional continuing source of personal pride.

Generalizations certainly can be misleading. But my experience these days suggests that while print rarely can take a lead role in communicating institutions, it still functions as a powerful symbolic identity reinforcement for many people.



Read Full Post »

In a new technology driven and rapidly changing world, it is impossible to be certain about what various segments of the public actually know about extremely complicated world events. Each medium has its’ strengths and weaknesses, and each has different changing patterns of use.

Newspapers are effective when it comes to providing both context and today’s developments. But readership is declining in the U.S. and elsewhere, and literacy is a problem in many parts of the developing world.

Television favors fast paced dramatic images over details and context. Some outlets such as PBS and NPR provide more context than others, but those generally reach fewer people. When television became dominate in the 1960’s, the matter of emotional appeal vs. rational analysis became an increasing matter of concern.

Social media is even more difficult to analyze because its’ use patterns seem to be changing daily. This is not unusual in the history of media.  The new “big things” in media typically becomes fads for a while, and then overtime uses change as people learn about strengths and weaknesses. For example, recent reports about Facebook usage may be suggesting that it’s better for staying in touch with family and friends than it is for handling serious matters. And while some still try to convey serious ideas using Twitter, others are finding that constant following and tweeting is just taking too much time. Twitter clearly is an effective tool for mobilizing people, but many have come to think it’s very weak at providing context for understanding and following the developments of complex events.

All of this seems to reinforce a need for greater “media” literacy among media consumers, including a willingness to seek out various sources of information, and to take personal responsibility for separating fact from fiction.

Read Full Post »

When television was clearly the dominant medium, a revolutionary group generally declared victory by taking over the main television station. In this age of 24/7 cable and social media, however, the situation is far more complex.

For example, in the Middle East there still are literally hundreds of newspapers, magazines and journals. Foreign newspapers also maintain bureaus. So print clearly is still an influencing factor, especially locally. Adding satellite communication and digital media to the mix is changing the game, but the change is not yet complete. How you receive news in Cairo is therefore likely to be quite different from how you receive it in the U.S. It’s content and tone are going to be different as well.

In addition to many news publications, in “Arab spring” countries there are also government-owned and privately owned television organizations. There are countless foreign networks and press services, including  CNN, BBC, Associated Press (AP), Independent Television News (ITN), Reuters, Agence France, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and more. Freelancers also cover these hot spots and sell reports to local and foreign outlets, many of which are in the U.S. Most western-based media organizations are facing budget cuts and have fewer reporters in the field. Therefore, the landscape, and the nature and quality of coverage, is constantly changing.

For example, the major U.S. television networks and newspapers have reduced the number of their news bureau locations around the world, and so their coverage is mostly provided by a very few constantly traveling correspondents, independent news services, or freelancers. Thus, the remaining  correspondents all tend to rush to the current hot spot (often referred to as “herding”), leaving many cities and entire regions of the world largely unreported.

Internet access varies, although we sometimes think everyone has it. For example, I am told that in Egypt only 21 percent of the population has access and that the actual literacy level of the population at large is quite low. So the reach and impact of websites, bloggers, and social media still remains a bit unclear. It therefore is assumed that Twitter and Facebook are used by smaller groups to stimulate on-the-street word-of-mouth, which in turn brings about demonstrations. In the final analysis, it seems word-of-mouth still remains the most effective medium, no matter how it is generated.

Fundamental questions become those of the “chicken and egg” variety: Does unrest due to unemployment, poverty, or government corruption inform media reporting, or does overly aggressive reporting bring about unrest? And once demonstrations begin, does television coverage primarily  inform, or primarily over-dramatize? My analysis suggests that each unrest situation is different.  Sometimes unrest comes first. Other times, it is media reporting.

Remaining questions for the news consumer: Do media organizations exercise adequate social responsiblity? Does competition for audience too often cause them to over dramatize? Can media become inappropriate participants in complex situations? What is the consumer’s role and responsibility?

Read Full Post »

Cutting through information clutter is the communication challenge of the new media age. In our  thoroughly saturated world, the more we see reports about changing and escalating events, the more confused we can become. Just when we thought we were beginning to understand, we get overwhelmed  and confused all over again.

A case in point is the 24/7 coverage of major conflicts. With non-stop reporting, new developments are always followed with rapid-fire, and often premature, efforts to interpret them. Relentless  determination to hold attention produces constant declarations of “breaking news!” Anchors end up over-dramatizing everything just to keep viewers from tuning away.

What’s even more troubling is that a breaking news-driven media can actually become a complicating factor in the event itself. They can become more of a player than observer. For example, when does a constant  presence of cameras draw diplomats and policy-makers into even deeper conflict? Can incessant stirrings of emotions make television drama out of serious situations that should require more thoughtful problem-solving and compromise? Would the public’s need to know be better served by reporting developments at appropriate intervals, and by providing more background and context?

This week’s focus on Ukraine is a good example. What do we really know from minute-by-minute 24/7 cable news that we would not know from periodic updates?  Has all the drama contributed to solving the problem, or is it just adding needless emotion to an already hostile situation? Does airing the rants of polarized politicians in the middle of such complex events serve any useful purpose?

How, then, do we more thoughtfully go about cutting through all this information clutter? When it’s all said and done, will it necessarily fall to educators and schools to explain the extent to which the digital media revolution is changing everything?

Read Full Post »