A Communicator’s Op-Ed: Overwrought with Simplicity

It seems more often than not, over-thinking with the aim to achieve dumbed-down simplicity and obscuring the obvious solutions complicate the simplest things. Is this human nature, or a product of our current social and political climate?

I want to know what the mainstream media’s current target demographic is – seven and under? I often wonder how uneducated or ignorant they think the general population is. Granted, American education is not at the top of the world as it once was – a critical issue that needs attention – but humans, by nature, aren’t stupid. Furthermore, whether they are book smart or street smart, the majority of Americans can think for themselves and form their own opinions.

I am a big advocate of eliminating jargon and million dollar words from everyday communication. Why? Because they don’t communicate to anyone but a select few, portraying an elitist scenario that only further angers the rest of the masses. You wouldn’t always know it from my style of writing, but I am a fan of the short declarative sentence. Think Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. Combine that with talking to adults as adults, not as little kids, and you have a strong formula to communicate with the public. It’s not difficult. Yet it seems so hard to do in the mainstream media and political campaigns.

I realize not all publications and media outlets fall into this dumbing-down category, but at the same time, they are not the same outlets the majority of people are turning to for their news. Complicating this scenario is that the popular outlets are fueled by biased politics on the left or right of the political spectrum. When Newt Gingrich during his presidential campaign complains about the “elite mainstream media” and how it will take his words out of context to portray him negatively, is he lumping in his friends at the Republican-supporting Fox News and their affiliates? Of course not, it would be a conflict of interest, and the die-hard supporters/Fox News audience knows it. The answer is “yes,” however, as the self-identified left-wing outlets are doing just that. But guess what? Fox News does the same thing about President Obama and the Democrats, taking their words out of context to paint a bad picture and plant the seeds of doubt.

How often have the pundits on MSNBC painted Newt Gingrich as brilliant but crazy, Rick Santorum as a scary anti-woman theocrat, or Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch one percent elitist? How often has Fox News perpetuated the absurd implications that the president was a Muslim, not born in the US, or painted his efforts to save the American auto industry as a sign of totalitarianism and government corruption? This current day mainstream media phenomenon of slanderous remarks, discrediting sound bites, and accusatory video clips is ubiquitous. And it’s sad.

What does this have to do with over-simplification? Well, the news outlets are not necessarily debating complex issues the country faces and discussing in a mature and educated fashion how a candidate’s policy could best fix those issues. I hear the same talking points from ten different supporters of a campaign on ten different communication channels, repeating specific phrases and keywords, rarely ever answering a direct question. And I observe the exact same concept from the opposition. It’s called propaganda, like it or not, and that’s how it works. The very same formulas Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward L. Bernays recognized and developed nearly a century ago, only applied to our modern social media connected world. And it still works when the die-hard audiences – aka the herd – are willing to soak it all in and repeat the messaging on their social networks and by word-of-mouth. An ingenious communication method can move mountains.

As for the journalism implied by the mainstream media outlets covering this stuff, what will it take to get them to take a neutral stance? I want to hear both sides of a story, not their favorite side. I want to know the nuances, the pros and cons, so I can make an educated decision when I go to the voting booth. And, I feel confident in saying this for all Americans, I want the media to talk to us as educated adults.

In my search for non-partisan clarity and neutrality, I have stumbled across new organizations with a similar mindset, like Rise of the Center and No Labels. I have begun exploring these groups and joining the conversations at Rise. So, in this world of reducing everything to dumbed down labels and demographics, does that classify me as one of the centrist herd? Do I now belong to a freethinking demographic willing to criticize and question authority and the herd mentality of biased media and politics? I would love to see how the mainstream media portrays and simplifies this new groundswell and what affect it may have on the 2012 election and beyond.

Please share your thoughts on this subject, whether you think I am right or wrong, or somewhere in between.


6 thoughts on “A Communicator’s Op-Ed: Overwrought with Simplicity

  1. David,Why hasn’t the media jumped on this:The gov’t will gladly accept the security and expediency of the internet for our yearly taxes; yet, to vote for the choices our taxes go towards we must…1. Registar with our town2. Goto a designated schoolhouse on one day3. Use antiquated technology that has been proven inept (see hanging chad)4. Etc…Seems the simplicity is also selective…Hmmmmmm


  2. I think you're absolutely right! I think it comes down to sensationalism and ratings, and that simplified story arc that gets at the so-called gut of a story is more palatable than the inconveniently more complex truth. I don't have any solutions for that, but I'd be happy to hear them. 😉


  3. I think the key to any argument is the words "dumbed-down" in the first sentence. I'm constantly feeling talked down to by media and it matters not what the political leaning of the particular organ is. NPR, for one, has developed a nasty habit of over-explaining terms and concepts any half-intelligent reader could pick up from reading a newspaper or Web story. Somehow the people whose work it is to inform us have decided we're all too stupid, busy or indifferent to learn anything on our own. And the rabidly partisan outlets rely on that assumption to spew their one-pointed idiocy.I'm just not that cynical about the polis just yet, I guess . .


  4. I can't answer for the media, but I do know part of the story selection process is a ratings game. If it's not shocking, outlandish, tragic, scandalous, or any other adjective we ascribe to the tabloids, chances are it won't be acknowledged. It is a business after all, and one more reason journalism suffers.


  5. I think the first step to a solution is removing journalism from the large businesses. Not that it would happen. Types of stories covered are part of a larger business decisions that take into account other business properties. I am really beginning to appreciate the younger web-based news start-ups, like Politico, whose focus is journalism, not punditry, sit-coms, and other non-news material.


  6. Interesting to see we sit on the same side of the fence here. Funny thing is, I picked up on the dumbed-down news thing when I was in high school watching the half hour nightly news programs before the Tonight Show or SNL.I have not been able to sit through an NPR thing in years, partially for the same reason you just pointed out. Lately, with what little spare time I have usually on long car rides (satellite radio is great for this), I listen to the mainstream media pundit shows to study how they communicate, both the hosts and the guests representing a political interest. It blows my mind how ridiculous it has become. There are a few shows or hosts that stand out among the others, otherwise I am generally disappointed.


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