The Rise of the Communicators

If someone asks, I’ll tell them I am a communicator.

I used to ply my craft in the world of broadcast news, where deadlines are stiff and constraints are unreal. You’re expected to weave a whole day’s worth of development on an issue into 70 seconds. If you’re lucky, 70 seconds of video will match up with 70 seconds of audio and tell a unified story. If you’re skilled, 70 seconds video + 70 seconds audio = greater than the sum of the parts. It’s not easy. You have to become a master at finding and exploiting analogies. You have to learn how to frame an issue and the context together so it makes sense. And did I mention you have just one day to pull it all together, with travel to unwilling subjects, and you can’t stretch your deadline by a single second?

Broadcast Journalism departments squeeze out as many graduates every year as there are jobs in the industry. Most never get in the door, and go on to something else. A few stick around for the long haul from behind a cushy anchor desk, where the salary typically becomes inversely proportional to effort exerted. A lot of us, myself included, leave after several years of honing our skills in the crucible that is daily news. And we have a mission.

UA seal I had a professor at the University of Alabama – Dr. Daniel Pound. I’ll be writing more about him soon. He – for the longest time – preached that the people who scared him the most were the psychologists. I don’t know how much he was influenced by subliminal marketing or the rise of psychological research designed to alter behavior. I know he read about two or three books a week his entire adult life. I also know he spent significant time as a federal investigator prior to his graduate studies. He was, as they say, “wicked smart.” And “wicked insightful.”

Over my years with him (both as an undergrad and as an uncompensated post-grad annual lecturer) his fear began to evolve. He told me he saw the future, and the people to fear most were… the communicators.

The Rules of Engagement

I’ve said it many times: the person who chooses the rules tends to win the game. In debates, “choosing the rules” is a matter of framing the definitions. You pick the terms, and steer the language in such a way as to benefit from every possible denotation while your opponent struggles with the connotations. You use precise verbiage that is easily defensible. You stick your adversary with words that are lesser-developed, open to interpretation, and reminiscent of things that are inherently bad.

My existence as an “unalienated outsider” in the realm of politics would not be possible if I didn’t see both ends of today’s political spectrum playing this very semantic game. Sure, the loony lefties are quick to point out when conservatism stumbles – and the rabid right returns the volley with a laundry list of liberal larceny. It’s all rather amusing, until you see the truth: most people just don’t know their buttons are being pressed. You have to completely detach yourself from the rhetorical carpet-bombing campaigns to notice there will be no common ground, because there is no common language remaining.

  • Baby? Clump of cells.
  • Social welfare? Freeloading entitlements.
  • Justice? Constitutional aggrandizement.
  • Electoral fraud? Sour grapes.
  • Perjury? White lie for the common good.

The Point of No Return

You can’t escape it, and I fear there is no going back. The schools are well within the battlefield, and the fight is carried there every day by those who would have their ideology prevail. After all, if you can cement the definitions when the children are young, you shape the way they frame every critical decision for the rest of their lives. And if you do a very good job of it, they won’t learn to think at all – and be led to submissive behavior suggested by the very words designed to trigger a programmed reaction.

Walk the plankBeing a communicator is more than an awareness of the words we choose – there is plenty to talk about with regards to the channels we select, the strategies we employ, and the creative ways we bundle them together. But it is a huge responsibility. We have to walk a narrower beam than in the past, because if we inadvertently choose a word that others have loaded with adjusted meaning, we’ll be walking the plank instead.

Share Button


  1. How true your summation is. I’ve recently encountered (and blogged) about the choice of singular words and only wish I had done it so eloquently.

    Great post.

  2. I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of the communicator and the responsibility too. Even my three year old has figured out how to push buttons, it’s human nature to categorize then push. The only real hope of perspective is critical thinking.

  3. I just hit them in the head with a club. How is that for communicating?

  4. Caveman, while your blunt-force communication is certainly a breath of fresh air in this modern age of spin, I fear you would suffer from “message gap.”

    I wouldn’t know, for instance, if your message is “I hate you,” “I want your stash of mastadon steaks,” or “I want to procreate with you.”

    For my sake, I hope I’ve got a stack of steaks in the freezer, just for context.