Archive for June, 2015

There is little doubt in this age of digital technology that television can be a powerful tool to cover senseless and violent crises and explore their causes. The horrible killing of nine innocent people  in the church in Charleston once again has me thinking about both the power and responsibility of television news.

Any new media technology will always be used, especially when it proves to be powerful. Over time serious users will perfect ways to make it more and more effective. In the case of television it’s strength is in its capacity to use carefully selected images and editing to dramatize. Extended television news coverage of major crises is therefore inevitable.

All of this raises questions about the potential for both positive and negative influences. These three have been swirling around in my mind:

1. What level and tone of television coverage informs the public most appropriately?

2. How much coverage of details about a perpetrator’s planning and background is appropriate? When might these details and images actually produce a celebrity status in the eyes of like-minded individuals and possibly encourage future assaults? And at what point might this coverage actually help achieve the perpetrator’s public relations objectives, and even those of sympathetic extremist groups?

3. And when might lengthy in-depth coverage move beyond mere observing and reporting into unintended participation in the event itself?

In order to address these and other questions, should television and other news media be  evaluating their own  impact on society and human behavior more visibly and more often… maybe even at times other than when a crisis has occurred?

And since media consumers are pretty much on their own to edit and evaluate their many  information sources in this 24/7 digital media world, is it also a good time to consider more media literacy courses and forums in schools, colleges, and community organizations?


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When I arrived at TCU in 1966 to teach radio-TV-film my closest colleagues and friends were in the art department. I found myself hanging out with oil painters, graphic artists, sculptors, and photographers. They were asking me about the psychic and social impact of television and I was learning about the power of imagery from them.

Looking back I can see clearly now that I believed early on that art had the ability to give context and tone to big ideas… and even enhance their power. In theatre the background set reinforces the dramatic impact of the story. In a marketing brochure graphic design and photography attract attention and reinforce the importance of the content. And the right magazine cover sets the stage for everything else that follows. In today’s media world you certainly can tell a lot about a book by its cover!

But it goes even deeper than this. Creative artists of all types provide insights and truths unavailable to many of us. The daily lives of poets, novelists, essayists, dramatists, composers, musicians, all take us a little closer to the basic truths we all seek. So when you engage with artists, appreciate what they do, see up close how they do it, and bring your compelling content ideas into the dialogue, you are enabling the kind of multi-sensory communication essential to influencing today’s audiences.

In the past I thought that intellectuals were only those high IQ people who could remember names and dates on objective tests. They were those scholars who could master numbers and put complicated formulas on blackboards. But over time I came to see that true intellectuals also include those who struggle to give birth to new ideas and surround themselves with creative people as a way to accomplish higher goals and deeper understanding. I love these people, and you should too.

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This past week I was impressed by several interviews with the trainer of the Triple Crown winning horse. I have been thinking about what he said ever since. He repeatedly said it was all about having the right horse. He dodged every opportunity to take credit for the win, pointing out that the only way this can happen is having a horse with both the talent and the will to do it.

It occurred to me that athletic coaches wanting to win championships have said basically the same thing. It’s all about the players. It’s absolutely necessary to have the right athletes with the right talent and a single-minded commitment to winning. In other words, even a really good coach must have talented athletes with commitment in order to be able to use his or her knowledge and experience to enable their best performance.

I have learned this same lesson about teaching. For many years I was just fine teaching anyone in my classes about what I thought I knew about communication and media. But in time I realized that when it came to helping students achieve truly major things it was all about them. If they had the talent and a relentless desire to make a difference I could call on my hard learned lessons to help them turn their potential into impressive accomplishments.

And I also found that this applies to strategic communication and marketing administrators and leaders. My last blog post described both Bob Schieffer and former TCU Chancellor Michael Ferrari as opportunity enablers. Looking back on my administrative years I now know that my greatest satisfactions came when I hired people with extraordinary talent and helped them develop it.

In the end, helping professionals fine-tune their special talent enables satisfying working relationships that continue well beyond your time at work. In fact, you are making an ongoing difference in people’s lives that you may eventually come to see as your “crowning” achievement… your Triple Crown.


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