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Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

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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Information Wars,  a new book by former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, explains how disinformation is threatening our democracy and free society. At the conclusion of an appearance at the Texas Book Festival, he suggested that traditional and new media organizations should come together to support an ambitious nationwide media literacy education project. This would be a project so massive that it will require hundreds of millions of dollars… but not out of reach for today’s media organizations.

First, citizens will need to understand where they can find and trust professional journalism, which also means how to see through the competitive pressures and temptations of media organizations… which are also businesses. Citizens will also need to come to understand their new role of “personal editor,” as they sort through the chaos of constant disinformation flowing daily from inside and outside the U.S.

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History teaches that most who followed autocrats in the past were initially attracted to their basic ideas, and accepted that some control from the top was inevitable.

History also teaches that when autocrats become dictators only those willing to carry out their cruel and arbitrary orders survive. All others are cut loose without a political future… and often viciously and personally attacked.

What does the current behavior of the president teach you?

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Recent debates introduced talented candidates to the American people. But these entertaining TV shows did not determine who is capable of winning a general election. In the end, impractical program proposals are simply not likely to find the needed support.

Also, cries in the House of Representatives to impeach the president will likely lead to very little. The Mueller report, however, yielded enough evidence of corruption and White House misdeeds to be helpful in a general election.

With all this in mind, here is a game-plan for winning:

  1. This general election will require the winning candidate to be realistic about what can actually get done. Eventually, this will mean compressing the best primary election ideas into one compelling, future-shaping theme.
  2. That said, I believe that preparing for this election will first require conducting focus groups in each major market to develop and refine market-specific messaging. Mueller report material can and should be an important part of this message development.
  3. Each of these groups should include grassroots opinion leaders, not just people with fancy titles. And campaign facilitators should listen for new and imaginative phrases to use in ads and materials.
  4. After each session, the best and most experienced campaign thinkers, writers, and graphic artists should gather together to clarify what was said. Graphic artists should be included because how words and images come together can make all the difference. Authentic and imaginative materials in new and traditional media will be needed to win.
  5. Individual focus group results, together with the best primary election ideas, should now make it possible to shape an authentic and winning overall campaign theme.

I believe that an “integrated marketing” approach that includes grassroots participation in message development will be the best way to win the presidency in 2020.

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When you get right down to it, the U.S. Constitution reminds us that when it comes to leadership, morality is what provides America’s best guiding principles. Even when some leaders have faltered over the years, morality-based ideas are what best define who we are.

For example, moral principles are why citizens and nations alike have always looked to U.S. leaders to find the ideals and ideas that best bring people together. Policy matters such as race, climate change, immigration, healthcare, and even poverty, are important… but they still require fundamental guiding principles. Our talk should therefore always begin with big constitutional values such as equal opportunity, human rights, freedom, or justice.

Morality really does matter. It is the essential ingredient of our precious and universally admired, “American experiment.” It’s what always made it work at home. And it’s what also makes it so appealing to much of the rest of the world.

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In a digital media world, a steady stream of tweeted lies and personal attacks can quickly add up to a mindless universe of make-believe. Once people become immersed in their own digital clutter they can quickly lose touch with the real world.

It appears that our president’s non-stop erratic behavior, especially over the past several weeks, has put him in such a state.

It’s a scary thought, but in today’s new media ecosystem, combining social media, 24/7 news cycles, and information overload, with a self-centered personality, can enable immoral leaders to create imaginary and dangerous worlds.

This might explain how so many politicians have come to see lying incessantly, attacking adversaries, snubbing longtime allies, and accepting questionable characters as admired colleagues… as normal professional practice.

Someone better step up and stop this nonsense soon! Make-believe leaders are very likely to do stupid things!

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