Saturday, January 13

Missing The Mark: KSFO

If someone ever writes a white paper about why modern media needs strategic communication help from the same “handlers” they used to loathe as the gatekeepers to corporations and public figures, KSFO will certainly be a mention in the lead paragraph. Its message on a 3-hour special broadcast was weak, probably because it didn’t have one.

While I did not listen to the show because it conflicted with a client meeting, I did spend some time reading the various commentaries about it, looking for the relatively few grays in a sea of blacks and whites. Among the best lines anywhere came from Joe Garofoli, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who called it right when he summed: “The controversy, fueled by liberal bloggers, showed the increasing power of new media to affect traditional outlets by going after their advertisers.”

Indeed, the landscape has changed and, for better or worse, traditional media has been the slowest to respond. You see, it used to be that the media (both objective reporting and op ed writers/broadcasters) was charged with the responsibility of “setting the agenda” for local, state, regional, and national discussions. Their underlying ethical guidelines were simple (much simpler than public relations professionals) because it was their job to “find the truth and shame the devil.”

Certainly, most good reporters follow ethical guidelines that include objective reporting and not accepting bribes, etc. But good reporters, the best of them, also perceive all ethical guidelines as secondary to "getting at the truth" whereas the worst of them, KSFO included, spend too much time trying to “shame the devil,” a label they seem to apply to basically anyone who does not agree with them. (My apologies to good reporters who might take exception to seeing radio talk show hosts lumped in with them.)

As I said, the landscape has changed and Julian Seery over at Exceler8ion presents some good points for newspapers to consider. More to the point: in today’s world, there seems to be an underlying movement by bloggers to take over the media’s job of “setting the agenda,” with the net result being that any biased reporting and reckless shaming the devil will be ever more scrutinized by a public that has much more power to communicate than a letter to the editor or calling into a talk show.

It seems the old adage “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the pound” is dead or dying. Today’s social media is only limited by the time it takes to post anything it wants: objective, biased, or completely polarized. With increasing fervor, every day, traditional media is finding that it is being subjected to the same scrutiny it is used to subjecting upon its topics of interest. Given KSFO’s performance on Friday, as well as many other examples out there, it seems to me that the media is not prepared for the job.

From a communication perspective, KSFO chose the wrong messages to make its case. The idea that a critic could not campaign against it was naïve, especially because it has campaigned against other people. The argument that its rival is anonymous was ludicrous, given that the media has long protected anonymity when it serves its purpose. And the concept that it can choose “not to address the subject again” is hypocritical, given the media shames people into talking about things they don’t want to talk about every day.

KSFO would have been better served to craft a message that was much more powerful and readily at its disposal.

First and foremost, its people needed to apologize for the threat of the lawsuit, recognizing that their rival does have a right to campaign against their show, although perhaps mentioning it was an attempt to teach someone a lesson between the difference of being a critic and attempting to censor critics (which is what Melanie Morgan herself learned a few years ago).

Second, they could have mentioned that their critic is equally guilty of colorful and hateful language, pointing out that he is sometimes a hypocrite in his argument (it seems as if they never read his blog ).

Third, admit that they have, at times, been radically harsh in their criticism but that must not overshadow Charles Bradlaugh’s warning that it is “Better a thousand abuses of free speech than the denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial stays in the life of people.”

Last, but not least, that despite what people say during passionate discussions about their beliefs, we can all agree to disagree on these overly polarized issues. As Australian-born Robert Hughes once wrote years ago: “If they (Americans) are fraying now, it is because politics has, for the last twenty years, weakened and in some areas broken the traditional American genius for consensus, for getting along by making practical compromises to meet real social needs.”

The one line remains as haunting to me as the first time I quoted it in 1994. It haunts me because none of the players in this debate has ever heard it. How could they? They are too busy yelling at each other. And that is something for all members of the media to keep in mind as they make a choice: do you want to get back into the business of “geeting at the truth” or do you want to join the ranks of millions who enjoy yelling about their polarized issues on blogs, vlogs, and broadcasts?

I hope you pick the former, because if the media (print and broadcast) continues to simply join in the shouting matches or host them, then who will be left to find the truth? Obviously, no one in the case of Spocko vs. KSFO.


Rich on 1/14/07, 12:36 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"ABC has reissued corporate guidelines to the [KSFO] hosts about what constitutes 'violent' commentary." — Melanie Morgan

Rich on 1/16/07, 7:45 AM said...

Final Thoughts:

In the end, if you need more evidence that Spocko vs. KSFO is less about the common man vs. a corporation and more about two polar political views slugging it out, consider the irony in an anonymous blog that doesn't allow anonymous comments. In fact, they monitor every post.

Why didn't my comment on Spocko's blog make the cut? I merely suggested he might not forget that businesses, like blogs, are made up of people too. That, and I complimented him on his writing, which has vastly improved in the last few days.

Indeed, the phrase "buyer beware" is not exclusive to products and services.


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