Communication Breakdown

Social media, talking heads, clickbait, vanishing lines between news and opinion and a constant state of outrage. “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

After decades of scientific and technological advancements we have managed to use them to create a climate in crisis, create weapons of mass destruction, create income inequality and poverty, and create a climate of ineffectual and destructive communication. So, in other words, we have whole big bunch of problems and our prospects for solving any of them are limited by our unlearning of effective communication skills.

The biggest culprit in this decline may be social media. At its best, we use it to keep in touch with old friends or classmates. Ok, fine, but the last I checked, we have phones and letter writing that can still accomplish that. Letter writing is a wonderful lost art form that maybe would make a comeback if we pitch it as retro social media or something. Kind of like how records (sorry, I mean vinyl) came back in fashion.

At its worst (which is most of the time now) social media is a digital bulletin board of hatred and stupidity, virtual screaming, fabricated outrage and false information intended to divide humans and sew hatred based on irrational reasoning. Why do people continue to even pay attention to anything on Twitter or Facebook? One of the problems is that tweets and posts extract desired actions or reactions. Maybe the best way to stop this insanity is to simply ignore anything posted on social media. As an update to Timothy Leary’s saying, maybe it’s time to turn off our cell phones, tune out of social media and drop in for actual human conversations and interactions.

Even when outrage is in order, effective direct communication can yield positive results. A case in point, the owner and editor of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden Alabama recently published an outrageous editorial calling for the KKK to ride again and go and “clean out” Washington DC. Elecia Dexter, an African American member of the newspaper’s staff took the direct communication approach, confronting the owner/editor, Goodloe Sutton, with an “open and honest” dialogue about the inexcusable editorial. The dialogue ultimately resulted in Sutton turning over control of the newspaper’s operations to Dexter, to take the newspaper in a “new direction.”

Journalists need to step up their game in effectively communicating facts not opinions. It’s time to pump the breaks on stories to allow for accuracy to permeate through every word before publication or online post. Walter Cronkite is quoted as saying “The ethic of the journalist is to recognize one’s prejudices, biases, and avoid getting them into print.” It seems lately that the opposite is happening as reporters make themselves and their desired narratives out to be the story. They see themselves as crusaders. I have no problem with that. Great reporters are crusaders for truth and justice. The issue comes when they make themselves and their opinions the focus of reporting at the expense of the facts. People may want to click on conflict and outrage but what they need are the facts and nothing but the facts.