Don’t Give Up on Informed Debate

By Steve Bryant 

Years ago I heard an NPR story about the next generation possibly losing their appreciation for different types of music. The story noted that because of new technology music options would no longer be limited to the songs that happened to be playing on local radio stations.

No longer do we flip between just four or five radio stations. Instead, a vast array of very specific musical choices are instantly available at our finger tips.  Meaning, we’re now much less likely to just listen to—and perhaps even like—what happens to be playing.

The same can be said for how we get our news and information. With news sources that cater to very specific points of view, are we not becoming overly focused on things that simply reinforce our own opinions?  Has our society given up on informed debate when considering major issues that impact our work, culture and political views? And in doing so, are we too quickly dismissing the viewpoints of others who may share a common goal or interest yet come from a perspective we are predisposed to ignore or distrust?

I often see this play out in the work we do for our clients. While we provide traditional PR services, we specialize in issue-based advocacy. We advocate for our clients’ perspective and educate the public about why that perspective is important.

However, I often see immediate reactions not to the message (the issue) but to the messenger, which may be a corporation or trade association advocating a “pro-business” perspective.  Perhaps this is largely because we have been conditioned to automatically trust or distrust these groups regardless of what they have to say.

But would we not be better served by focusing on the message and not so often on the messenger? At the very least, should we not be willing to engage in an informed debate on the issue before so quickly dismissing it? What if, in fact, we happen to share the same position with someone or some group with which we are not typically aligned?

One of our most important jobs as communications consultants is driving that informed debate. Rarely is there a major topic which fosters universal agreement. Therefore, it is critical to put forth a clear, concise and poignant argument outlining our client’s perspective.  Crafting that argument and using it to impact the overall environment is where we excel.

Nowhere is this more important than in the public policy arena. The public is best served when both sides of an issue are fully vetted and understood by decision makers, the media and the public. Yet what we often see is a quick retreat to predisposed positions forgoing true debate on a topic: “So-and-so said this so it must be true or it must be false.” 

That is a disservice to everyone because it means good ideas may be dismissed for the wrong reasons. As a society with the great fortune of having access to so much information we should take the time to learn both sides of an issue before deciding where we stand.

Maybe the old days of simply listening to what’s on the radio weren’t so bad after all.  At least then we had to give something different a try.  And who knows…maybe we even liked it.

Steve Bryant is a co-founder and partner of RunSwitch PR and has more than a decade of experience managing public relations and issue advocacy campaigns for a wide variety of clients. He is an expert in health care and health policy communications. Learn more about Steve here

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Posted on April 1, 2015 in Articles

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