Archive for May, 2014

Many people have found this Pope refreshing. As a communicator he seems to possess a special instinct for relationship building and reconciliation. Here is my thinking about why he is so effective:

1. He first travels to the location of conflict or misunderstanding.

2. He focuses on “looking” comfortable and breaking down barriers. He thereby takes stress and tension out of the air.

3. Eventually he makes observations carefully worded to avoid direct confrontation and enable the possibility of fresh thinking.

4. He then invites key players to come to “his house” at a later time for conversation and prayer, where he will begin by clarifying common interests. Doing this at a later time in a neutral and private location is important.

5. He thus establishes common ground, and a “safe” place for candor and fresh thinking.

6. Finally, he also demonstrates how different religions’ history and beliefs need not divide, but rather can establish mutual respect and accommodation.

This Pope’s communication strategy is not one of how to win an argument. Rather, it is one of demonstrating how to side step confrontation and choose what unites over dwelling on what divides.

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TCU honors students and I have wrapped-up our explorations of “How Media Revolutions Change Everything”  with a second week of site visits in London.  This week it was the BBC, the British Film Institute (BFI), and the CBS London Bureau.

The visit to the BBC produced a surprise adventure into the world of archives.  We were asked to consider the challenge faced by those charged with archiving a new media world where far more information is generated than can be captured and stored.  Current BBC thinking is that while the “story” or lesson of a great work scholarship, literature, or other media might be digitized for posterity, the details of all these great achievements cannot. This contradictory idea of a significant loss of history in a “big data” world was shocking.

At the BFI we explored how media revolutions, politics and declining resources can combine to change the culture, identity, and founding mission of a unique and historic institution. The BFI was originally charged with the preservation of a distinctly British film industry, but somehow also became a custodian of a national British identity. But recent budget cuts and political influence, as well as the new media revolution, have caused many insiders to fear it is losing its’ uniqueness, and thereby its’ national prominence. Again, we were surprised by discovering still another way media revolutions can change everything… including the stature of long established institutions.

The CBS London bureau functions as a hub from which foreign correspondents travel to cover the world. Digital technology and social media have change every aspect of news reporting, with smaller cameras, instant satellite transmission, GPS mapping, mobile phone connections, and even citizen-produced i-phone contributed photos. Here too, however, budget cuts have closed bureaus, eliminated staff, and reduced the number of events that can be reported. Reporters therefore tend to “herd” to the same stories. Our take-a-way was that while CBS correspondents are the best in the business, it’s also important for the consumer to know what stories go unreported. And what is even more compelling is the number of people who are now getting all their news from alternative, mostly unedited, and often inaccurate, new and social media sources.

The students and I have had an exciting adventure in media ideas over the last 10 weeks. We began by “Skype-ing”  in experts to our classroom on campus in Texas, and concluded by meeting face-to-face with experts in London. We ended where we began: Media revolutions indeed do change everything. And what’s more, even if we wanted to there is very little we can do about it!

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The question today is: How has the new media revolution changed what you do?

This week I have been in London with my TCU honors college students, and a college administrator. We have visited the American Embassy, an organization that publishes a web-based newsletter about higher education in the Middle East, and the Executive Editor of the Economist.  In addition, I visited with a Pro-Vice-Master in the University of London system. The consistency of their responses has been a bit surprising.

All emphatically made the point that social media is here to stay. But they all also remain uncertain about longterm effects, and they all see new media usage patterns going through almost daily changes.

U.S. Embassy diplomats admitted they are not using social media yet to maximum capacity, and point out that their most effective work remains face-to-face dialogues in some of London’s most difficult and volatile neighborhoods. Social media they see as a tool to mobilize participation in events, but don’t yet see it as solving international relationship problems.

The Middle East higher education newsletter uses social media to drive people to its’ website, and sees Twitter as more effective for that purpose than Facebook. They emphasize that success is still all about content. Stories must be more concise these days, but it is content that determines readership. Significant numbers of Middle East populations are illiterate, and so while social media reaches the educated people, mass responses are still face-to-face generated in the streets. The people we talked with were very anxious to make the point that in Cairo, for example, life as a whole goes on rather normally, and thousands are enrolled in and still attend universities.

The Economist remains primarily a weekly print publication, but it also features a substantial website that carries fast breaking stories, an e-newsletter , several Apps, an audio version, and many associated live events and seminars. The executive editor confessed that it challenges them to determine how and when daily new media use changes require adjustments in what they are doing.  So far, however, they remain one of the most important news publications in the world.

The University of London Pro-Vice Master’s big concern is that in her world of professional university advancement she sees young people coming into the work so focused on tactics and social media that they are not paying enough attention to strategic thinking, planning, face-to-face events, and content. Social media have permanent roles to play, she agrees, but all of the other media tools are still in the mix, and actual onsite experiences are what truly define an institution.

This has truly been an enlightening experience. Next week it’s the BBC, the British Film Institute, and the CBS London Bureau.  Stay tuned, there will be more to come.   

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Here is a digital world question: Can experiencing a new place on-line be just as good as being there in person?

I remember reading film criticism in the 1960’s that asked the question: Why does film seem so real, when it isn’t?  The point was that film and TV news look real because you see real people doing real things. But in film and television there is someone pointing the camera, editing the scenes, and often adding sound and visual special effects. There is no way to know what is beyond what the camera is showing you. You are directed to the important action as defined by the director. And camera movements, angles, and other special effects are manipulating your emotions. In this way, film and television create their own reality.

If you were actually in that location you would be scanning the entire landscape, focusing your own attention, and selecting the objects and happenings you want to observe. You could breathe the air, smell the smells, and fully feel the moment. Searching the internet may come close, but it is just not the same..

For example, I am convinced that you cannot really know a city without actually being there. A documentary or internet search will provide an adequate orientation. They can give an overview, review the issues you might encounter, and give good advice about what to see and what to avoid.

But the digital world simply cannot substitute for the feelings you have wandering city streets, strolling through immigrant neighborhoods, cautiously tasting food from push carts, noticing textures and colors, and imagining life in this place in earlier times. When you are there you shape your own wide-shots and close-ups. And even when you have a guide pointing out things of special interest, you still determine your own “cut-a-ways,” “flashbacks,” and “fast forwards.” You write your own drama, and you are the lead actor.

The internet is great for making initial connections, and enlarging our perspectives. But knowing only a virtual world is not nearly the same as fully experiencing the real one. It’s not even close. In fact, everyone should study abroad!  It’s life changing, and there is no substitute for it.



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Recently I met with several members of an association called Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). I was surprised to learn there are thousands of them in several cities around the world… and they are not all in government positions. Many work for professional associations, embassies, international banks, consulting firms, and countless NGO’s.

NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) range from disaster relief, to healthcare, to conservation and cause-promoting organizations. Most are non-profit and international in their outlook.

If “strategic communication” is defined as planning and implementing communication initiatives to achieve specific outcomes, and “public diplomacy” is defined as people communicating directly with people in other cultures the basic elements of their beliefs and values, then NGO’s are clearly using strategic communication tactics to carry out basic public diplomacy.

There are many varieties of public diplomacy carried out each day by thousands of governments and NGO’s. One would think we would be making much greater progress toward world peace. And while many of these organizations also have education programs, we might just have to call upon education institutions to complete the job.

Higher education potentially is the purest form of public diplomacy. People gather to learn about each other’s way of life, the elements of global leadership, and how to use research and knowledge skills to solve world problems.  Maybe as this industry becomes even more international, we will finally have the groundwork in place to achieve a true community of nations.

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