A couple of days ago, I talked about the importance of honesty and integrity in communications today. There’s one more thing that I think professional communicators need to pay close attention to going forward as well: perspective.
Nowhere is this more evident or scrutinized today than in the news media. There’s no question that it’s as hard as it’s ever been for our news media to objectively cover local, regional and national news. So many personal biases are in play. So many people in society have such strong, polarized opinions and experiences. There are more media channels and more sources of possible news than ever before. Events taking place are more sensational and consequential than they’ve been before. In response to all of this, I’ve seen many discussions and debates arise recently among journalists about how to cover the news, what the role of the press is, etc. I think it’s a great trend, and a sign that the people with the power of the pen generally have respect for their roles in society and take them seriously.
I think it’s essential, though, that these discussions go one step further and also focus on keeping things in the proper perspective. Of course, the American public needs a free and vibrant press to report facts and facilitate dialogue. But these facts and conversations also need to be placed in a proper context – not one shaped by biases and leading statements, but one of comparison and contrast with other established facts and widely accepted moral codes. It’s only by doing this that we can make logical conclusions about whether a statement or event is acceptable or out of bounds, or whether we can feel good about following our leaders, or whether we feel we need to take action on something, or anything else. Let’s face it – the media need to play this role because the vast majority of Americans don’t have the time or interest to seek out the facts and do these comparisons themselves.
As an example, no matter your politics, I think logical, reasonable people can agree that many of the events leading up to Donald Trump’s election and inauguration have been unprecedented. In the early stages, I think the news media generally kept things in perspective and told their audiences that unprecedented things were happening – good, bad or otherwise. But lately, I haven’t seen nearly as much of that. Things continue to happen on a regular basis that we can objectively say are unprecedented and will have far-reaching effects, but the context and perspective aren’t being shared as much as before. I’m not sure whether it’s fatigue, or the media being conditioned to a “new normal,” or something else entirely. But this trend concerns me, because I don’t believe it’s the media’s job to automatically acquiesce to a new way of thinking or acting, or to decide for us what conventions, norms and laws we live by. That’s up to us. We need the media to vigilantly provide facts and context to inform good decisions, and then it should ultimately be on us what kind of a world we live in.
Perspective is just as important for those of us who are professional communicators. It goes well beyond well-established ethical best practices for our profession; for example, it’s fascinating to me how unearthing the facts of a situation and presenting them in proper context can often be the ultimate way to achieve competitive differentiation. Many Game Changer clients have been high-tech and B2B companies, and it’s pretty common practice for them to focus on how their product/service is the best performing, most durable, most cost-efficient solution to a buyer’s problem. The metrics and value propositions are usually the same from vendor to vendor, because it’s been established that those items are the key factors in a buyer’s decision process. But the issue with this kind of messaging is that it sounds and plays just like everything else; if all of the competitors in a category say the same basic things, then how in the world are we to distinguish between them? Worst yet, if everyone’s saying the same things all the time, then eventually it starts to come across as noise and the audience starts to tune out and lose interest. Instead, finding the unique story behind what you’re doing and bringing that to life in the proper light can really resonate with target audiences and drive success. More on this in a future post.
In the meantime, we can rededicate ourselves to communicating with proper perspective and help those audiences we serve by giving them the best possible information to go by. We also can support other professional communicators and enable their success – especially in the world of journalism. There are few things more central and essential to a functioning democracy, economy and society than a functional Fourth Estate. It’s a claim that’s been proven time and time again over the years. And it’s a major reason why I still have a subscription to my local daily newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and other major newsmagazines like TIME.