First I will start this by saying I am not today walking in the shoes of media members in Dallas or Oklahoma City or Philadelphia or Buffalo or Boston or Waco, and I am not in the shoes of the communications people in any of those places either, nor am I in a position on either side of the media back and forth in places like the White House. However the control of the narrative, as someone who works sometimes on both sides of the media and communications business, is certainly askew, and instances as we open the New Year point to the fact that it’s not getting better, whether it is with the President-elect throwing a veteran journalist off a golf course or media members being ejected from or not allowed in their places of work; it’s getting worse.
There are many forces at play here, between:
- The consumers unending need for deeper information and content, accurate or not;
- The inability for anyone in the limelight to go off the clock for any period of time;
- Media organizations constant push to try and be fast and first sometimes at the detriment of being accurate and fair;
- The fluidity of the transactional sales marketplace to find all ways to monetize content; effectively;
- A changing media landscape where “traditional” journalists have not adapted to all forms of media and sometimes feel left behind;
- A sometimes lack of relationship building by those in the communications business with media members big and small;
- A loss of proactive creative storytelling;
- An ongoing question of what media organizations are “credible” and what are not; and frankly, thinner skins on both sides of the business when it comes to dealing with various and sundry forms of celebrity and how those voices are amplified either on their own or through the prism of media members.
Us vs. them is now the rule, and not the exception, on both sides of the media communications business.
All of those factors can create for confusing, adverse and sometimes hostile circumstances. However that is not new at all. In the business of communications and media one is often thrust into difficult situations; dealing with calming a troubled sea or being the voice of reason in a world where everyone is shouting is a skill, and it is one that is both lacking and much needed in today’s marketplace.
Then there is the question of who has the hammer, and who controls the power. Today, it is easier for anyone to break news; point a phone, post a story, tag the right people and off you go. Whether there is a strategy behind the news, whether or not it is being managed properly or whether or not all those in the news cycle are being effectively communicated to sometimes falls by the wayside, and that is a shame. More often than not, the person WITH the hammer these days doesn’t care who he or she swings it at. As a matter of fact, if you can embarrass or bully someone with that club, you more often than not get points. Taking the high road and nuancing a message or building consensus is less and less an option; crushing or embarrassing is becoming more the point; negativity flourishes, good will disappears.
We have so many obvious concerns with issues like bullying in society as a whole, but are people on both end of the media equation going down the path where being a bully is what wins? Where embarrassing someone, on a twitter feed, on an email chain, in a teleconference or a press conference, in a place of work, is the accepted form of dealing with adversity? It certainly is not professional in any sense of the word.
As much as we can all agree to disagree, a level of professionalism, on both sides, seems to be lacking more and more with each passing day, and frankly it does not have to be that way. In an interesting piece in NY Sports Day…a fast growing digital outlet with new platforms in multiple cities… veteran writer Wally Matthews looked back to an incident 30 years ago and tied in to what went on in Philadelphia on Sunday (where an Eagles writer was removed from the press box for violation of etiquette rules), adding this disappointing commentary; “There is little good will between journalists and their subjects these days, and even less respect. And as this incident shows, there is pretty much no solidarity among the men and women who perform a job of the utmost importance to a free society, even if it is only covering fistfights or football games.”
As much as those in control of news and information want to believe they can act alone and go directly to the public, the fact remains that members of the “media,” from traditional outlets to bloggers, vloggers and serial instagrammers and Facebook Live streamers, still have a very strong place in disseminating information to a wide audience, and with that, they still have a good amount of control of how a narrative can go. As one veteran media member, one who has adapted to telling stories on various platforms, told me on Monday, “Many people think that having the first word is important. In reality having the last word, and being able to retell that last word over and over, is really much more valuable.”
Really, the value is in each side being professional and communicating throughout the process, having respect and a better understanding of the fact that like it or not, you still need each other to have a livelihood. Games and movies, plays and press conferences, may still happen, but their messages and their storytelling, good and bad, cannot be amplified to the largest possible audience without media coverage in all forms. If you don’t want to speak before the game, that’s your call. If you choose not to credential someone for legitimate reasons, so be it. Just do it in a proper way, not a spectacular one.
On the other side, media might have no job to do if there aren’t professionals there to help them get information and access (that is another debate over what and who and when gets access…there goes that power question again) and help guide their storytelling, with both sides understanding who and what the job is of the other.
Is it going to be contentious and competitive? Heck yeah. It always has been. Are there going to be games played on BOTH sides to get exclusivity and access and get stories spun? Of course there will be, that has not changed at all either. Can there be a medium established so everyone gets to do his or her jobs accurately and professionally most of the time? There should be.
Is it a relationship business? For sure, and now perhaps more than ever. Those relationships take time to develop, and there has to be a give and take on both sides. Arrogance is not needed. Neither side can exist in a silo, like to or not, those looking to get stories told and those telling the stories will continue to coexist and maybe just maybe, people on both sides of the profession will take a little pause and realize that you can be powerful without being vengeful and overtly mean. It doesn’t have to be demeaning to be professional despite what one witnesses in many other areas.
One thing we keep hearing from successful leaders is that to grow a business you need a positive and inclusive culture. Ironically in the media business, one which in many ways is struggling to adapt; positive and inclusive are becoming the exception. Maybe that’s a reflection of society and the demands of the consumer, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are great stories to be told and amazing storytellers out there, and working together solves more issues than pulling each other apart.
Back to the sports business, it is a multibillion dollar global industry. Highly competitive and exciting? For sure. It doesn’t have to be petty and nasty to be successful. Leave that to other high profile industries. Set the example, that’s what professionals do. It is a fun industry, let’s not screw it up any more.