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Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

Changes resulting from the recent media revolutions, will be permanent. Prepare yourself for a world of confusion… produced by both domestic and foreign conspiracy crazies, disagreeing experts, lies that will begin to sound true, some 24/7 news media enjoying too much commercial success, and digital media platforms that are only as ethical as their users.

From a political perspective, Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, writes in a recent Foreign Affairs article that the factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been “a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust, and effective leaders.” The problem is that some democracies have performed well, while others have not. And the same is true for autocracies… some have done well, others have not.

The fact is that the future may not resemble the present. Some economies may not recover. Too many people have lost their livelihoods. Too many governments have not been able to afford needed bailouts. And too many autocrats have taken advantage of the need for central leadership and have put themselves permanently in charge.

As for the United States, the lack of early pandemic action, inconsistent healthcare, simultaneous political and cultural crises, and reelection-obsessed national leadership, has put the country in one hell-of-a mess. And the president’s 4th of July divisive, angry, and totally ignorant of American history rhetoric could be the last straw for many Americans.

I am encouraged that many established scholars and prize-winning journalists think it’s not too late for new leadership to turn the tide. It will require positive, democratic, and visionary ideas, shouted far and wide, using every old and new media platform, to restore both domestic and foreign trust in a united America.

This is not about political ideology. It’s about having experienced and competent government leadership, supported by the nation’s best talent… and all guided by a political party that has it’s ethical head on straight!!!

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Before I retired as Vice Chancellor I spent several years working as an advocate for higher education in Washington. I also met regularly with a group interested in exploring the potential of public diplomacy and “soft power” to improve our country’s standing in the world.  

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in his new book Exercise of Power, discusses how we often need “soft power” more than military (hard) power. And in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow he explained that when the United States Information Agency (USIA) was abolished as a downsizing move of the Clinton administration, the responsibility for public diplomacy/soft power was given to the Department of State, where the necessary staff and budget to support it was also reduced. He further explained that programs designed to explain America to the world, such as the Voice of America (VOA) and other media initiatives, were also weakened.

As the second world war was ending, leaders from the U.S., the UK, and Russia met to imagine the peace-keeping potential of a world bank, an international monetary fund, and a “united nations” organization… and American leadership was seen as critical to making these organizations work. They all have had their ups and downs over the years, and many think that the eventual loss of the USIA made this kind of “soft-power” leadership even more difficult. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration has been taking steps to eliminate all of our nation’s soft-power leadership gains.

Regaining global leadership will require a new administration to organize the collaborations necessary to deal with the most critical international issues… and then to furnish the strategic communication and digital media talent and technology necessary to make those collaborations visible all over the world.  

In other words, what we need now is a full-speed, soft-power assault!

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Walter Cronkite…  once celebrated as “the most trusted man in America.”  What would Walter say about being called “the enemy of the people,” or say about”fake news” claims?

Is journalism the enemy of the people? Of course not. Is news ever fake? Very rarely. But in today’s constant clutter of information, journalism has indeed changed… in both positive and negative ways.  

  1. It’s important to recognize that many journalists are committed to finding and reporting the truth.
  2. Professional journalists traditionally have tried to maintain a “balance” between opposing ideas.
  3. But the 24/7 digital/social media revolution has permanently upset this balance.
  4. First, the “enemy of the people” charge has actually increased the number of readers, listeners, and viewers, making many large media organizations significantly more profitable.
  5. The result has been an increase in ads, beautiful anchors, star reporters, clever opinion writers… with their headlines mostly determined by politicians, government officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood celebrities.

Two solutions to consider: 1. Find local and national journalists and news media organizations you can trust… learn from their expertise and choose your actions accordingly. 2. Support core media literacy education in public schools, colleges, and community groups. As always, truth is best found in wisely led education. 

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The Dynamics of Credibility… essential in a crisis.

  1. A record of telling the truth.
  2. A background of consistent moral character.
  3. A record of explaining exactly what happened when there is troubling news.
  4. A record of admitting errors, and a willingness to apologize.
  5. Respect for worthy adversaries.

Effective Leadership Communication… essential at all times.

  1. Always tell the truth.
  2. Apologize after making a mistake, or neglecting to act sooner.
  3. Include and acknowledge top experts when planning, and incorporate their recommendations.
  4. In a crisis, unify the public by delivering truthful status reports, asking for whatever sacrifice is necessary, and promising that with their help the future will be better than ever.
  5. Collaborate with a highly professional communication staff and/or group, and with their help use mainstream and social media platforms each day to keep the public fully informed.

Leaders with a history of autocratic behaviors and questionable moral character will not have the credibility necessary to unite people. Rather, their need to attack those with different opinions will inevitably lead to greater divisions and dangerous conflicts. 

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There is a role for everyone to play when it comes to handling situations like we have now. 

We have a spreading pandemic, millions out of work. and constitutionally protected protesters in the streets sometimes indistinguishable from looters and criminals. And in the background we also have a military-obsessed president who rejects science, eliminates public safety regulations, needlessly rounds-up immigrants, ignores obvious climate change, and divides the nation with his dictatorial pronouncements.

News media certainly have a role to play in this scenario. But real change will require the leaders of state and local governments, along with the leaders of federal and non-profit institutions, to use every media platform possible to communicate “save our democracy” themes every day. 

When FDR began his regular radio talks the entire country was in disarray. It was in the midst of a depression, political polarization, and disagreements about the danger to the U.S. of Nazi activities in Germany. He dealt with all this simultaneously by first adding infrastructure projects to give people work, and then gradually bringing them together by reinforcing traditional American values.

1. The White House. To deal effectively with today’s complicated issues, this or another president will have to develop truly meaningful action initiatives and communicate empathetic talking themes every day. These themes and actions must also demonstrate an ability to bring people together to collaborate on solutions.

2. The news business. Skillful journalism can and must clarify issues, suggest ideas, and report events. I have been impressed with New York Times opinion reporter Tom Friedman’s suggestion that Joe Biden appoint his cabinet now so that the voting public can see how our most serious issues will be addressed. But journalist Friedman can only suggest ideas, he cannot implement solutions.

2. Corporations and businesses. Recently my thinking has been influenced by Rebecca Henderson’s book, Re-imagining Capitalism. Today could be a real turning point. Businesses should now be able to be profitable while also  creatively advancing the welfare of their employees, supporting criminal justice movements, and promoting the powerful potential of corporate social responsibility.

3. Political parties. With so many issues causing violence and disruptive national divisions, this is a perfect time for the parties to explain the difference between campaigning on ideology and balance-of-power governance.

4. Think tanks. These institutions are home to intellectuals and officials not currently serving in government. They are perfectly positioned to provide the data necessary for smart problem-solving.

5. Local nonprofits.  These organizations have a special opportunity now to initiate creative projects that enable criminal justice collaborations and improvements.

6. International organizations. Incorporating unity-building themes and projects fit the purposes of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). These include most professional associations, global banks, management consulting firms, and relief organizations.

7. Universities and colleges. Each president or chancellor should already be explaining the institution’s interest in community service, as well as its potential for helping to bring about cross-cultural understanding. Projects related to leadership development, problem-solving research, conflict management, terrorism, healthcare, climate change, energy, regulation, poverty, immigration, and more, all can help both the local community and world problem-solving

In summary, major crisis solutions must begin with an empathetic president and message themes so powerful that other leaders and organizations are motivated to echo them with their words and deeds. 

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In our 24/7 digital world, the daily implosion of information becomes a confusing mass of mush. When leaders are in conflict every day, as is happening with pandemic messaging and riots in cities, most of us throw up our hands and cry out for simple, transparent truth.

But a major theme of my writing over the years has been that media revolutions change everything… from families, to politics, to individuals, to education, to religion… and part of that change is overwhelming and confusing information noise.

For example, elimination of air and water pollution regulations, threats to eliminate health insurance without alternatives, tax cuts that favor the rich and big business, relief funds that don’t reach the most hurt, budget cuts in public education, quiet arrests and deportations of immigrants by ICE in major cities, verbal attacks on critics, tweets that can encourage violence, thoughtless abandonment of international agreements, inaccurate claims about virus tests, confusing timetables for vaccines, blatant science denials, many dismantled institutions, and the Voice of America becoming the voice of this administration, all of which add up to big daily doses of frightening noise. Very little truth can be found buried inside this kind of media mania.

Surprisingly, however, truth can be found beyond the daily news by simply seeing the “big picture.” It’s a very clear picture of a one-person-in-control autocracy.   

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A strong democracy requires strong institutions… AND empathetic leadership.

  1. Empathetic leadership only comes from studying those leaders who learned during crises how to describe the truth about what is happening while offering an inspirational vision for a better future when it’s finally resolved.
  2. Strong institutions are the bedrock of any democracy. Some are government institutions… such as the justice department, the CIA, or FBI. These institutions exist to provide essential research and information without political consideration to whoever occupies the White House.
  3. Some institutions exist in society as a whole, such as schools, universities, human services, international nonprofits, arts organizations, and church denominations, and these are also critically important for a functioning democracy.

But the truth of the matter is that the current administration has cut the budgets and staffs of most governmental institutions, as well as their support for those in society that are proud of their political independence. Governments focused mostly on winning elections will likely use social media and conspiracy rumors to distract and confuse, attack those who criticize (including mainstream news), blame others for what goes wrong, and use political extremes to divide people against each other.

What is needed now in America is a leader who will tell the truth about this current pandemic, use examples to show how people come together to find lasting solutions, and articulate an inspirational vision for a future that the entire country can easily rally around. It also seems obvious that any truly empathetic leader would be finding all the resources necessary to meet the needs of everyone on the front lines of healthcare, as well as those who have lost their jobs… or are losing their small businesses.

Only after everyone is led through this crisis with common cause will the economy really come back. And then, finally, it very likely will come back with “warp speed.” 

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Freedom of speech gives us the right to protest and say whatever we are thinking. Many think this also includes the right to ignore current health warnings: I have the right to risk my health and go anywhere I want without a mask.

If risking one’s health threatens the health of others, what happens to the others’ rights? Doesn’t some kind of “hybrid” way forward seem necessary in situations like this? In other words, shouldn’t the idea of the “greater good”  take over? But for this there is an important requirement: A genuine leader who is transparent, empathetic, and trustworthy. Instead, sadly, we have a president thoroughly obsessed with his own re-election.

But, there is also one more big requirement: Our 24/7 digital world created  a permanent state of information-saturated confusion… a truth hiding daily mental fog which causes many people to reject expertise and align with political extremists who promise to take care of everything. And what’s more, we are learning that autocrats thrive in this kind of media-produced fog. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Internet consequences, and not just social media skills, be taught in schools and discussed in community groups all over the world. 

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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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