High on their own supply
The End of Media, Chapter 4: The tragedy of message discipline
The End of Media is an essay-in-progress about what happens after the national conversation frees itself from gatekeepers. Previous chapters:
1. Went Down to the Crossroads. About big media’s long near-monopoly over both information and commerce.
2. Every Phone a Printing Press. About the tsunami of new communications options that followed the advent of social media and smartphones in 2007.
3. The Message Factory. About the rise of “Message Fordism,” the mass production of message as a replacement for democratic debate.
This is the concluding chapter.
And they all lived happily ever after.
In the bad old days, big media owned both commerce and information. The only way to get a message out was to buy an ad or invite a reporter up to the office. Both of those quasi-monopolies collapsed with the arrival of smartphones and social media. The gatekeepers of yore are now just two ruby slippers sticking out from under a farmhouse.
We have entered an era of perfect message control. In fact we’re 15 years into it. Armies have been enlisted to the task of helping every large organization tell precisely the story it wants to tell. The range of available tools and the control they offer over the nuances of messaging are incomparably greater than anything that was ever available before.
“An interview isn’t a conversation,” the PR armies tell their bosses and political masters. Ignore hard questions; reply with talking points. Better yet, skip the interview! If you have an announcement, tweet a link to the news release. If you want to look determined or compassionate or devoted to your children, put the appropriate photo on Instagram. If you looked strong in Question Period today, put video on Youtube. Email your child-care message to your child-care list, your fisheries message to your fisheries list, your housing message to your housing list.
At no point do you ever have to admit fault, or even ordinary challenges on the way to your goals. “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” the PR armies say. So don’t bother. Is your program late arriving or an administrative nightmare? Does it drive investment down instead of up? That’s a conversation nobody wants to start. Stick with, “We’ll always be there for Canadians.” In opposition, is your solution unworkable or almost certainly unconstitutional? Who cares? Just say, “It’s common sense.”
Nor, I should note, is there any technical barrier to length or complexity if you’re in that sort of mood. It’s as easy to push out an hour of video from a Chamber of Commerce speech as a three-second zinger. If Pablo Rodriguez wanted to publish a book about Canada in the 21st-century communications landscape, he could post the whole thing on Scribd or Medium tonight. Anyone else, from any party, could do the same. The only limit on readership would be public interest in the message.
An unbelievable panoply of communications options, from trivial to profound, limited only by the imagination and ingenuity of the communicators. And not a gatekeeper in sight!
So how’s it going? What’s been improved by the massive reallocation of government resources from “actually doing things” to “polishing your own apple non-stop?”