Facing the Challenge of Global Communications

I spent yesterday at Voice of America in
Washington, D.C., and it’s interesting to see how the organization is changing
in the new communications environment.

Every media organization I know is undergoing change, some dramatic and radical. Competition for attention is staggering. The flow of information is torrential. The ability of the individual to tune in, or out, is immediate and transparent. It’s second-nature to multi-task and close out noise (visual or aural) that we don’t want to consider. This puts a huge challenge to all communicators.

Add to this stew the ever-increasing range of options for delivering messages and the new communications environment becomes a swirling whirlwind of options unlike any we’ve known before.

This means many things, of course, but foremost among them is the demand to be relevant to the needs of the audience. Irrelevant messages won’t get through the clutter. It also means the message must be crafted in a compelling, engaging way to attract the attention of the audience. And it means the message must be delivered in the right medium and in an environment friendly to the audience members.

And, unfortunately, it also means competing with attractive “ear candy” and “eye candy,” programming that is flashy but not necessarily deep in meaningful content.

Yesterday I spent the day talking about such issues with executives of the Voice of America who are attempting to communicate to global audiences in this rapidly changing environment. The VOA’s mission is to communicate directly with the peoples of the world reflecting the long range interests of the United States. It’s mandate is a challenge in itself. But the organization has maintained a high level of credibility by maintaining professional journalistic standards. (I’m fully aware of critiques of VOA but as a long-time listener I’ve found the programming sound, fair and forthcoming.)

It was an energizing conversation, but one that reminds me how challenging it is to deliver messages effectively today. This challenge knows no boundaries because members of audiences–even when the reside in different places–have developed similar skills and the mind-set that come from media use. This results in similar practices (such as tuning out or tuning in) regardless of one’s location.

To put it more simply, no matter where you live, you are surrounded by a web of information that affects you even if you don’t participate in the conversation actively. And you are likely to behave as a multi-tasking, discriminating reader/listener whether you are in the bush or in the city.

The VOA, as every other media organization, is grappling with this changed environment of empowered individual audience members. And due to its mission, its challenge is direct and immediate.

Every conversation I’ve had recently with communicators tells me we’re all looking at this challenge.

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