Media Can Be a Powerful Catalyst

Ok, I confess. I am an information junkie. I don’t collect thimbles like my aunt or souvenir spoons like my sister in law. Instead, I collect information. This is good, right? Information is a wonderful thing, right?

Well, the truth of the matter is nowadays I’m not so sure. There are times when collecting beer steins is beginning to look mighty attractive.

Unfortunately, in an age where the experts predict that by 2010 the amount of digital information in the world will double every 11 hours, my pastime is becoming an increasingly stressful one.  Like many others, I often find myself overwhelmed and not quite able to deal with the amount of information I receive through email, voice mail, snail mail, fax, assorted list serves, newspapers, television, and correspondence.

As a result of needing to overcome the data smog that has resulted from this overload, during last week’s vacation I deliberately shut down several of my normal communication channels. For instance, I did not turn on my computer, check my emails, or read a newspaper.

While I especially missed the ritual of reading the newspaper each day, I found I didn’t miss its focus on violence and negativity. It did however get me wondering why the media appears so much better at capturing breakdowns rather than breakthroughs. Additionally it does appear that good news stories of creativity and success are considered less newsworthy.

All around us, there is a sense that the old way of doing things is no longer working. So even though we might not be sure what’s going to replace the old way, there are indicators that something new and different is being born. Yet, today’s newspapers seem much more fixated on the fact that something is dying. 

Perhaps this means we need more from our newspapers than the traditional journalism that presents facts and occurrences.

In an era where people are bombarded and overwhelmed by data and information, we need writers who can filter, explain, and share. And that doesn’t happen unless writers can get a person’s attention and motivate them to read more.

In my experience what makes many people want to learn more are stories that relate to them, their families and their communities. The stories are especially effective when tied to factual data that makes people think and act about things that matter. Additionally, because our new way of doing things is not yet clear, we need to tap the creative talent of artists to inspire, illuminate, and tell our new stories. Ultimately this means we need to shift the role of the media from static, one-way information dissemination to the conversations and dialogues that will ultimately grow the trusted relationships that will encourage reader involvement beyond the smattering of written letters and occasionally phoned in tips.

Research suggests that people are using the Internet for three main purposes - to search for information, to access news, and for sharing. Local newspapers will only be able to counteract a declining and aging readership and the growth in competing media if they focus on these same three purposes - particularly local news and sharing.

What do we need to share? We need to share our thoughts and strategies for how we can develop innovative new strategies to respond to a global, highly competitive, fast changing, knowledge-based economy. We need to learn how we can work together to build a culture of innovation and how we can practice more systems-thinking in our communities.  How can we facilitate access to learning, nurture the aspirations of our youth, and strengthen our cultural well-being?  Let’s use the media to figure out how to address the rising costs of physical inactivity, obesity and chronic disease, increase waning civic engagement and volunteerism, protect our environment, strengthen the capacity of the voluntary sector, and increase civic engagement and spirit.

Communities are facing these and other challenging issues in complex environments that are continually impacted by forces from the local, regional, provincial, national and global fronts. The media can be a powerful catalyst for bringing together the diverse thinking and resources that will be necessary for creating strong, healthy, and vibrant communities.

Posted on 08-09-09

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