Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

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I was once told by a colleague that my problem was that I thought every problem was a communication problem. As I thought about it I found myself explaining how a significant number of problems are indeed communication problems, or at least have significant communication dimensions. So here are some thoughts that Mr. Comey might do well to keep in mind…

Recent media revolutions have changed how communication works:

  1. Audiences today receive most of their information through many different digital devices, and choose the ones that appeal to them most.
  2. But this same technology creates a vast amount of information clutter, and results in confusion about facts and truth.
  3. In fact, this technology also creates a surprisingly new “media ecosystem,” one that allows repeated lies to eventually sound true, debating to polarize issues to the extreme, crude language to become commonplace, and celebrities to appear more knowledgeable than they are.
  4. And this technology also created countless new news sources to choose from, many based on opinion. Some sources became extreme, requiring audiences to become their own editors. Also, many people choose only the sources that feed their biases.

Communicators therefore have new realities, and new rules, to consider:

  1. Communication always breaks down. Most people can only remember about 50% of what they hear or read, and communicators can’t control which 50%. People hear selectively, and only what they want to hear.
  2. More information isn’t always better. Too much adds more clutter to an already information cluttered and confused environment.
  3. To compensate for this the communicator must begin with a simple framework. For example, first tell them what you know about them. In other words, empathize. Then give them only 4 or 5 major points selected to meet needs you know they have, with examples for each. Finally, summarize very succinctly.
  4. You should use social media to talk to your most important audiences directly, over the heads of the news media and others. This will help cut through the clutter. But you must use the devices and platforms you know they prefer, and each audience will be using different ones. And know that younger audiences will be changing their preferred platforms often.
  5. You must deal with the news media realistically. They will not tell your story your way. But you must still be prepared to respond when you become news. News media visibility establishes you as important, but news audiences will also only hear what they want to hear.
  6. The only way to change minds is to raise questions that cause audiences to become a little uncertain. Conversion is a lengthy process, but eventually you might find opportunities in audience uncertainty to suggest new positions. But remember, a Democrat’s argument will only make a Republican a better Republican.
  7. The more interactive your social media choices the more successful you can be in the long run. Successful communication is a process, not a one time sender to receiver event.

Mr Comey, I know there is a lot here to digest. But I think you will do well to incorporate what you can… especially insights about the new media world, how communication works, and especially what not to say. For example, I think you made a mistake referencing Mr. Trump’s hands, orange skin, and tanning lines. It should have been obvious that this is what adversaries would respond to as a cheap shot, and the news media would see as great headline material. You need now to go forward telling your story in a more straightforward manner, expecting people to hear only what they want, and using the right social media platforms to stay in interactive touch with your primary audiences, asking them to help tell your story. Word of mouth still works, but now it’s called buzz!

Good luck. The new media world is a complex and bewildering one. Believe me, I know. I learn the hard way too.

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With extremely smart and articulate young people taking up the issue of safety in America’s schools, I am wondering if good people on both sides of the gun issue can now find a meeting of the minds.

A colleague of mine recently pointed out that several independent polls show as many as half of NRA members agree with some automatic gun restrictions. And I recently saw a television report showing a focus group of concerned citizens and NRA members agreeing on a surprising number of solutions.

Maybe extreme polarization over gun rights is mostly the reaction to official NRA television spots, lobbyists tactics, and the divisive rhetoric of executives… and not the feelings of many longtime NRA members.

In the past the NRA has mostly been about gun safety. Members also buy guns for hunting and family defense. And all of  this seems reasonable, and no doubt constitutional. But many gun-free citizens have become terrified of living around huge numbers people from all walks of life toting high-powered automatic weapons , often openly and dramatically.

So here is my question: Without the involvement of NRA executives, lobbyists, politicians, or activists, and with independent poll information in hand, should not all community governments appoint permanent commissions to find reasonable ways forward?




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If you are leading anything today, or aspire to lead something, or just want to be a more informed follower, it’s not very complicated to set up a home study experience… and if you wish, invite a group of fellow travelers to join you. This is not neuroscience!

Looking back over 50 years of seeking to understand, teach, practice, and write about communication, I believe that serious discussions and internet searches of topics similar to those below can yield the necessary knowledge and insights for leading in today’s world. Here’s my list:

  1. Describe why communication always seems to fail… and what (if anything) can be done about it.
  2. Search the internet for insights from communication and media research.
  3. Describe ways media revolutions significantly changed society, individuals, and audiences.
  4. List ways to intelligently consume and use 24/7 journalism.
  5. Identify the many troubling characteristics of the ever-pervasive new media ecosystem.
  6. Describe ways that media have become weapons, and fake news.
  7. List personal benefits and hazards of social media.
  8. Describe best ways to use digital media for direct and interactive communication.
  9. Identify ways to make sure brand identities are authentic and clear.
  10. Describe processes for orchestrating one-voice messaging.
  11. Show how to use small groups for problem-solving.
  12. Identify the essential elements of productive meetings.
  13. List common internal politics issues and ways to address them.
  14. Clarify best methods for resolving conflicts.
  15. Find examples of using soft-power in local and foreign relationship-building.
  16. List the requirements for effective partnerships and allies.
  17. Write rules for constructive speech in a new media world.

It is absolutely essential to have enough informed, talented, articulate, values-driven, and courageous leaders and followers ready, willing, and able to help save the day when it’s needed. With our current media clutter, endless confusion, and total political chaos, that day has come.

Last weekend we may have witnessed the next generation getting ready to take on dramatic change. And these young people are also born searchers and tweeters. So either the weekend was just another mass march, or it was an entire generation suddenly awakening to the real possibility that they can make history. Indeed they can… but only if they really have the will.

In retrospect, I decided to bet on them. How about you?

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As I watched the rally in Washington I was mindful of the day John Kennedy pronounced that “the torch has been passed to a new generation.” He realized that both the timing and place were right. It was not so much about his politics. It was about his understanding of communication dynamics.

Readers of this blog know that for many months I have used communication dynamics analysis to assess what has been happening to both political parties and the presidency. In a nutshell, I have had to conclude that political ideology and both parties have lost touch with practical problem-solving, and the presidency is no longer governing from a foundation of basic American values.

It has been perplexing to me to observe how this predicament has been tolerated for so long by so many, and actively exploited for personal gain by others. The lessons of both history and communication warn that such a system will either degenerate into autocracy, or finally be changed by a powerful movement that emerges from widespread frustration and personal fear.

Now we have an uprising of young people. Millions of them. They are a new generation of smart, passionate, articulate, courageous, and new media savvy young people. Tweets will not frighten them! Right now their primary motivation is stopping gun violence. But I could also hear in many of their thoughtful comments an underlying disgust with unresponsive lobbyists and big-donor dominated politicians.

Here is my question: Is there an inspired, informed, and articulate someone out there who can soar above the narrowness of both political parties and give leadership to this incredibly impressive generation?

This weekend we had the kind of mass response and international news-making event in Washington that contains the seeds of a true mass movement. What do you think? Was this the dawn of a new day in America… or just another reality TV show?

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I was planning to offer a new course on the communication dimensions of leadership and wanted to add material on why understanding the impact of media revolutions was especially important today for anyone who aspires to lead. Conveniently, I came upon a brilliant new book on leadership by General Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman titled, Radical Inclusion, and it happened to contain some compelling new ideas about media.

The media topic is important for leaders for many reasons. The digital revolution is creating a bewildering world of clutter and confusion. Sending out more information is usually only adding to the clutter. Debates today are polarizing more than educating. Television is expanding the leadership advantage of celebrity and entertaining. Repeating lies over and over again is making them sound true. Misusing words is causing them to lose their meaning. Crude language and personal attacks are becoming widely acceptable. And the realization that top experts disagree on most everything is causing average Americans to throw up their hands in confusion.

And just as I was ready to teach my fully revised seminar, the Trump campaign appeared… and the impact of 24/7 news and social media suddenly became much more intense.

Studying the Trump campaign and first year of his presidency was a total immersion in chaos and turmoil. But it helped me see with even more clarity that this digital media revolution is actually creating a new and powerful media “ecosystem,” a system with interacting and interconnecting facts and fictions capable of producing permanent clutter and confusion. As a result the world will never be the same. Leading will be forever changed, And the Dempsey and Brafman book arrived just in time to add very relevant new media insights.

The daily deluge of digital news and social media is actually forming what the Radical Inclusion authors call a permanent  “digital echo,” a state of clutter and confusion that always will be hanging over us. The implications of this for leaders are enormous. “Ways forward” will never again be based on perceived certain truths. That’s because in this digital world there are no reliable truths. As a result, leading may now require imagining and acting out compelling “narratives” more than preparing detailed position papers.

In other words, instead of writing big data-driven strategic plans, to be really effective today aspiring leaders may now need to chart out exciting storyboards and recruit the most talented supporting characters they can find to help tell their stories and act out their dramatic narratives. It’s no longer quiet time in the library. Now, it’s quiet on the set!

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When someone is hired or elected to lead your company, organization or nation what do you expect? Would you hire someone with a record like this?

Past business behavior. Often failed to honor contract labor obligations. Blamed others for his business failures and bankruptcies. Has an overly pompous and self-righteous reputation. Did not always pay back loans. Investigative journalists have written about the criminal and autocratic background of some associates.

Past personal behavior.  A record of numerous sexual harassment and assault charges. Bragged on tape about groping women. Attacks and bullies adversaries. Lies and exaggerates about accomplishments. Always claims that “only I can do it,” rejecting the value of teamwork. Uses “funny names” to intimidate people.

Current leadership behavior. Attacks the press as fake news while generating fake news himself. Uses Tweets to divert attention from serious issues, or to simply create chaos. Agrees to reasonable solutions in meetings and later abruptly changes his mind. Fails to show respect for predecessors and traditional allies. Pulls out of international agreements with no consultation. Arbitrarily ends regulations without regard for the impact on clean air, the environment, or public safety. Makes statements that create divisions. Often sounds racist. Shows no concern for the hostility that his rhetoric encourages. And craves flattery… making himself vulnerable to manipulation by other heads of state.

Morality and the U.S. Constitution. It has been assumed from the very beginning that our nation’s leaders will affirm a belief in individual freedom, equal justice, opportunity for all, and the pursuit of the greater good… and thus will make personal behavior and governance decisions based on those values. No president has been perfect. But this is the measure by which their place in history will always be determined.

The constitution simply puts forth a set of uniquely American values. It certainly never suggests that a president’s ends can justify any means. The “means” are those positive and opportunity enabling spaces where the American dream can come true for everyone. Thus, our country can return to greatness only when those uniquely American values once again shape the means by which it is led.

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