A while back, I gave a talk at the University of Toronto. My topic was how big institutions — governments, unions, corporations, associations and (particularly) big media — are completely out to lunch when it comes to communication.
I told the 300 kids in attendance that big institutions speak in a language, and a manner, that normal people just don’t. I gave the kids an example: Lots and lots of people don’t actually know how many million are in a billion, I said.
“But governments and corporations and unions, and especially big media, keep talking about billions all the time,” I added.
“Which means they are literally talking to regular people in a language that they don’t really understand.”
It’s not just language, however. The entire culture has changed, too. But big institutions — and big media in particular — keep talking at citizens in a manner that is as old-fashioned as a rotary phone or a VCR.
For instance: Back at the dawn of time, when I had the privilege to work for then-opposition leader Jean Chretien, we selected subjects for the daily Question Period by (a) reading newspapers and (b) watching CBC and CTV news. We determined what was important by watching Peter Mansbridge, in effect. We based our approach in QP on what the journalists and columnists wrote in the morning papers.
So I asked the kids: ”When was the last time one of you watched Peter Mansbridge’s show? When was the last time you sat down on a leisurely Saturday, and read a newspaper?”
All of this wasn’t very scientific, of course, but neither is the big media, most days. Too often, big media make important decisions based upon anecdotes, hearsay and a tenuous understanding of marketing data.