As I watched the events unfold in Tuscon this weekend and hoped against all hopes that Representative Giffords would make it through, I came across this article in The New York Times by Matt Bai: A Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?
Bai noted that a number of politicians had begun removing pages from their Web sites, pages that contained powerful rhetoric that could be associated with some sort of militant response to politicians on the other side of the aisle. My post is not about politics, so I will leave those details out, but I encourage you to read Bai’s piece, and many of the other thoughtful articles that have followed (just do a quick Google search on “Giffords and political rhetoric”).
This kind of article is a reminder for communicators whose job is focused on elevating conversations and points of view above the din. The din is a powerful obstacle, and as I have noted here in the past, controversy almost always leads to interest. There is an appropriate role for controversy in many kinds of industry conversations. However, frequently the most extreme points of view garner the most attention simply because they are extreme.
Controversy and differing points of view are powerful tools, particularly when you are competing against millions of voices in social media. And they can be a great tools, when used properly. We live in an age where “news” is defined by an amalgamation of professional and “citizen” journalists. This means that depending on what you are reading, fact checking does not always happen. Consumers must be more cautious about which sources they trust.
While reporters like Bai will continue doing his research and writing thoughtful, balanced stories, there are lots of other outlets that exist solely to advance an agenda. As communicators increasingly become creators of original content that promotes our clients’ points of view, we have the responsibility to balance the need for visibility with the need for accountability and responsibility. We need to push ourselves to take the hard route to getting out the right message in the right way.