Owned -vs- Loaned

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 6 min read

It’s ironic because in 2010, I worked in Public Relations.

One day, as I was returning from my lunch break, there were some reporters outside of my office building. As I was walking in, they caught my attention to ask if I’d be willing to answer a few questions about some current events.

I agreed.

woman in orange shirt and blue denim jeans standing in front of black and gray camera

They proceeded to ask me questions about the economy, and whether or not I was optimistic about its rebound after the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. I remember spending the next five minutes answering that question, and several other follow-ups, with a nuanced opinion on what I felt would happen in the coming years of the economy including how it would impact people across different economic classes.

Later that night, excited for my first news appearance, we gathered around the TV to watch the news broadcast. Out of everything I had said, all that was taken (out of context) was a two second clip where I said “I’m confident.”

This two second clip did not accurately reflect my position. My words were taken out of context, and my belief of how the TV news media will present a person’s positions was forever shaken.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

One of my clients is a brilliant Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) communications strategist. Her work is anti-racist and transformational. She spends her days helping organizations to confront difficult conversations that create equitable environments.

She is also a parent.

Recently, the school district where she lives launched a new DEI program in an effort to have conversations in the classroom that teach “kindness, compassion, understanding, empathy, and listening.” Oh, the horrors, won’t someone think of the children!

Naturally, people rallied against this program and decided it was part of some grand conspiracy to teach graduate level Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) in elementary schools, and started a petition to have the initiative removed.

As is par for the course, it fell on the shoulders of my client, a black woman, to do the heavy lifting of rallying the community to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. She began creating resources and bringing people together to provide a voice and the upcoming school board meeting where the issue was to be discussed.

Side note: Allies, do better.

The Board Meeting

The opposing sides came together at a recent school board meeting to advocate for their positions and the news media was there to cover the event.

Local news programs only have a few minutes to cover any story, regardless of its importance or complexity. This event was no different. The coverage of the event was a soft-touch, providing almost no clarification about the difference between DEI and CRT, and doing little more than churning out the empty “both sides” kind of coverage we’ve come to expect from the “news.”

They spoke with several people at the board meeting and my client was one of them. Just as with my experience from 2010, my client was clipped to 2 seconds. What’s worse is that her comments in the online article were taken out of context and even misrepresented. Given the type of work she does, this sort of misrepresentation could undermine her credibility, cause damage to her reputation, and impact her livelihood.

She did everything the right way and yet “no good deed goes unpunished.”

This is not an anti-media tirade but after her experience I wanted to write this as a reminder to myself and as something for you to think about.

Journalism, your voice, and “the News”

I am not anti-journalism.

I believe that journalists do some of the most important and often most dangerous work imaginable. Journalism, in its purest form, is the pursuit of and publishing of facts backed by evidence. The goal of journalism is to find and communicate truth. It is among the most important tools to inform the masses, and is critical to a functioning democracy and the march toward a just and equitable world.

Journalists work hard to ensure that your comments are not taken out of context. Journalist, who seek to tell the truth, would be horrified at the idea of knowingly misrepresenting your position in a story.

But not everything that appears to be journalism, is actually journalism…sometimes, it’s just “the news.”

As we’ve covered, “the news” will take your comments and publish them without necessary context. The news will cover a story, but instead of seeking to find the truth, they need to tell you just enough to keep you entertained, attentive, confused, or scared. The “news” often has one goal: to make things interesting enough for you to come back after the next commercial break.

While I do recommend talking to a journalist, I simultaneously recommend that you strongly consider steering clear of “the news.” As a rule, unless you really trust the person asking to loan your voice, be very cautious. Your best course of action is to prioritize activities where you dictate the terms of how your voice is used and presented.

Owning your voice

It’s because of my experience with the news and the observation of what social media has done to our culture that I have become increasingly dogmatic in my belief that you should do everything in your power to own your voice. This means having your own website, your own blog, creating your own resources and any other content that allows you to provide all of the context you’d need to clarify your positions.

We are in a sound bite culture with everyone just an edited video away from being misrepresented. With the looming threat of deep fakes, the problem is bound to get much, much worse.

The news is exciting because of the possibility of reaching their (often) large audience. After my interview, I remember imagining my message arriving in homes across the area unfiltered and untarnished. Instead, I, like others, found myself infuriated when I realized I’d been duped into lending my voice to be a pawn in their pursuit of keeping viewers until the next commercial break with little more than a shallow take on an important topic.

blue bmw m 3 on red floor
don’t worry about the important topic we’ve been talking about. buy something.

Today is my call to action for you to take the steps necessary toward building your platform and owning your voice. If you haven’t already done so, establish somewhere that you own to publish what you feel is important, for the public record. This can include your thoughts, opinions and ideas about your profession or the world at large. It’s up to you. Whatever it is, should you find yourself in a place where you’ve been taken out of context, it’s helpful to have it in your own words, on your own platform as an insurance policy.

I am thankful that my client has plenty of content and testimonials that firmly establish her position. I hope that you choose to continue, or start building your own repository of your thoughts, ideas, and positions.

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