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Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

In a crisis, presidential press conferences traditionally are held for two reasons:

  1. To bring the country together by inspiring confidence in its leadership.
  2. To report new factual information about the crisis important for the public to know.

Today, presidential press conferences have these characteristics:

  1. They compel cable TV coverage, visibility, and big audiences.
  2. They give a former “reality TV” star a comfortable “rally style” format.
  3. They confuse and divert attention when facts were ignored and denied far too long.
  4. They allow putting critics on the defensive, including legitimate professional journalists.
  5. They strive to create the of illusion of leadership in the absence of knowledge.
  6. They keep the president’s political base intact… cruelty and lies have become style characteristics acceptable by far too many.

It’s time for cable networks to stop daily live coverage, and only report outcomes when the two traditional reasons for presidential press conferences are met. This is because:

  1. Rambling on for hours only confuses everyone.
  2. The integrity of professional journalism must be much better demonstrated.
  3. The unmet needs of those in “the president’s base” should be constantly explained by the press.
  4. Those who can meet those needs should be identified and challenged to do so.
  5. The consequences of ongoing political polarization in Washington should be constantly explained.

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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.  

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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?

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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A communicator’s view…

Being a liberal has meant that your focus is on the needs of the working class and supporting government programs that provide for their welfare.

Being a conservative has meant that your focus is on making government smaller, keeping welfare programs at a minimum, building a strong military, and having a very dim view of deficit spending.

When a balance of liberal and conservative voices can be found, balanced reporting should be expected.

But Trump’s activities and pronouncements have nothing to do with conservatism. Rather they are filled with lies, gross exaggerations, cruel attacks, and building an autocracy.

It should therefore be the focus of professional journalism to call out this divisive behavior, to remind people that freedom of the press is protected in the constitution, and to explain the founding “idea of America.”

This is not about political ideology. It is about the communication responsibility of the news media. 

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I am frustrated with both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have handled their long primary campaign poorly, and the Iowa caucuses will not fix that. And the Republican party has been reduced to “the party of Trump.”

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander rightly stated that the democrats produced so much factual content that there is little need for witnesses. Other Senators are now agreeing with him. But where they are wrong about acquittal is their assertion that it will properly allow the matter to be decided by the people in an election.

This is wrong because the president has already been attacking and making fun of adversaries, declaring that he alone can fix things, and asking foreign nations to help him get re-elected. This is the behavior of an autocrat, and acquitting him now will only allow this behavior to continue.

I have asked colleagues why they think the Republican Party has become the party of Trump. Fear of him they think is the reason. They listed fear of Trump’s Twitter attacks; fear that voters in their home districts will turn on them; fear that McConnell will take them off his list for PAC and lobby money; and in some cases even fear of physical harm. Maybe some Senate leaders even see a safe and powerful place for themselves in an autocracy.

When watching the State of the Union address, I suggest that you look for and evaluate details. How clearly does he give real substance to his claims? Also compare the tone of this “written for him” speech to his off-the-cuff and rambling pronouncements as president. Who is the real Trump?

This much is clear: With this acquittal the checks and balances system that our founding fathers designed to save us from a dictatorship could be coming to an end.

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