Mediacentrism

My thoughts return to the PR blogosphere and its substantive commentary (or lack thereof) on political matters. I think I have found a serviceable, though imperfect, analogy to sum up my beef.

Brian Solis, who is generally acknowledged to be a leading writer in ‘big think’ PR pieces and an overall pretty sharp guy, writes a lot of stuff on the intersection of business, the ever-evolving digital age and how that affects organizations. I was not a huge fan of his writing early on but the more that I’ve read, the more it’s grown on me.

One of Brian’s pet points, and one that I’ve seen him make several times in writing, is that often people focus on digital media and social platforms as ends in and of themselves rather than a tactics that fit into a preexisting business model and organizational ethos. Now, if you made it past the embarrassing number of buzzwords in that last sentence, here’s what I’m getting at:

Brands and their marketers suffer from what I refer to as medium’alsim, a condition where inordinate value and weight is placed on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths and ideas to deliver desired and beneficial experiences and outcomes.  Said another way, businesses are developing for the sake of development and establishing supporting presences without regard for how someone feels, thinks, or acts as a result. In doing so, “engagement” programs are calculated, brought to life in the form of an editorial calendar that, by its very nature, isn’t not designed to really engage people at all.

Emphasis mine. I misremembered the term he cam up with, which caused me to waste a good ten minutes on Google searching for a combination of ‘Brian Solis’ and ‘mediacentrism’, failing at that, cursing at Google and then even considering using Bing. But no matter. My moniker is ‘mediacentrism.’ It’s the exact same idea and, I have now realized, it’s one of my chief complaints about how PR types write about politics online, if they do write about it at all.

So often, political posts are focused on the delivery mechanism. Here’s a post from Dan Zarrella about how the leading GOP contenders’ Twitter stats. Here’s a David Meerman Scott post about how Obama’s video is a great example of content marketing. Here’s an InkHouse post about the optics early on in the primary process. Etc, etc.

Again, I stress, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these posts. They can be interesting. I’m aware that it’s not the job of PR folks to analyze policy. I’m aware that much of their professional work does concern image-managing, so this emphasis makes enough sense. But, nevertheless, I think there’s a lost opportunity to look at the way information is disseminated and rejected received. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves: Jeff Zeleny and Ashley Parker spend almost all of their time writing about trivial, optical stuff. PR people could look elsewhere. And yes, because I am ever the thoughtful and substantive blogger, I’ll give you an example.

Greg Sargent had an interesting post a few days ago. An NYT/CBS poll asked about tax fairness in the context of growth, to steal Greg’s wording, and here’s what happened:

Which do you think is the best way to promote economic growth in the U.S.? 1.Lower taxes on individuals and businesses, and pay for those tax cuts by spending on some government services and programs, or 2. Spend more on education and the nation’s infrastructure, and raise taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses to pay for that spending.

Lower taxes, cut spending: 37

Spend more, raise taxes: 56

And here are a few more figures:

The poll also finds that 67 percent say the government should do more to help improve the situation of middle class Americans; 52 percent say government shold [sic] do more to improve the housing market; 57 percent think the wealthy pay less than their fair share in taxes; and that 51 percent think capital gains should be taxed as ordinary income. People say they dislike government in the abstract, but when the talk turns to specifics, suddenly active government doesn’t look so bad.

Emphasis all his. And wow. Sounds like good news for the Preznit, eh? Except there’s also this:

But a whopping 55 percent are confident in Romney’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. If Romney clears the basic competence threshold with voters, as seems likely, it could be trouble for Obama.

Waitwaitwait. The public supports, by twenty points, raising taxes on the wealthy and spending more (Obama’s plan) as opposed to cutting spending and lowering taxes (Romney’s plan). 67% say the government should do more to help middle class families, which Romney’s economic plan will not do (see previous link). 52% say government should do more to improve the housing market, an area in which Obama has been quite poor but it stands to reason that Romney would be worse. And 51% think that capital gains should be treated as income, a change which the Buffet rule would mostly accomplish. Romney, if you haven’t been up on it, does not support the Buffet rule.

So: the general public opposes Romney’s general economic plan by 20%. On each discrete issue, the public is more aligned with Obama’s policies than those of Romney. And… wait for it… 55% of Americans claim to be confident about Romney’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. Now, that’s interesting.

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Connection without knowledge

Interesting post up at Brian Solis’ blog. Don’t yet have a mobile device myself, which always makes me feel old and outdated reading posts about mobile, but that’s neither here nor there.

This observation caught my eye:

Indeed. Think about all of the events leading up to this moment today and the role your smartphone or tablet played in helping your discover, share, communicate and learn. You might in fact, be reading this on your mobile device now. The reality is that growth in mobile is blinding as consumers break the shackles of their PCs and expand beyond the reach of wifi to keep them connected to information and people anywhere and everywhere. This is an important moment in the evolution of mobile as it no longer simply about communication or smart communication. Mobile is causing a fundamental shift in society where consumers are evolving into connected consumers. This connected mindset is empowering as people take advantage of on-demand access to not just information, but other people, opinions, shared experiences, and a bevy of apps and resources to help make more informed and efficient decisions than ever before.

Emphasis all mine. I agree wholeheartedly but there’s an important distinction: being informed does not necessarily follow being connected. Now, I’m biased because a lot of my thinking is about political stuff, which is governed by a set of rules totally different from those which apply to consumer products, but still.

For political information, the brave new media world poses an interesting contradiction: never have there been more information outlets and yet getting relevant, useful information has not gotten any easier. In some respects, it’s probably gotten harder. You can read articles from CNN, the New York Times and the WSJ about different candidates tax proposals and never have any clue whether the articles assume a baseline with or without the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. You’ll have to read Bob Somerby to be aware of that little extremely important issue. On other issues, most notably Social Security and “entitlements,” major news orgs like the WaPo won’t just fail to inform you. They’ll actively mislead you. Gotta dig around in the weeds of the Internet to find a cogent explanation about those issues, many of which are listed at sites that the vast majority of Americans have never and will never even hear about.

But consumer products are different, aren’t they? If a new toy has lead paint, that won’t be turned into a political football and be disputed by half the country’s misinformed electorate. Right?

Yeah, I think so. But just remember, at least as a general principle: being informed does not always follow being better connected. And that fact might yet pop up in the consumer purchases arena at some point or another.