The experts

In a meeting, recently, I asked about how a particular media story had come into being. Mostly out of curiosity, because I do a lot of work analysing stories and their impact after publication, but I don’t do much on how they come to be stories in the first place.

Media liaison in community organisations is invariably the exclusive responsibility of executive officers and Board presidents. Mid-range orgs might hire a PR company and the major orgs (like VicHealth) will have their own media team.

Everyone else is counselled not to engage with the media.

Media engagement, in other words, is seen as a matter of organisational risk management.

Yet gay community life has become radically intermediated (Hurley, 2003).

What does that mean?

As a network of personal and social relationships, gay community still exists — but those relationships are inter-mediated, i.e. the connection is made through communications media. And our engagement with gay identity and community increasingly takes the form of consuming entertainment and news media, e.g. watching Glee and True Blood, rather than turning up in real spaces like gay clubs.

Something similar is beginning to happen in ethnic communities, as well (O’Mara, 2010).  In one refugee community in Melbourne, newly-arrived from one of the least developed countries on earth, I recently learned the best way to contact people is through word of mouth via Facebook and SMS. In another community, adult women bypass local health information altogether, and find information and entertainment in their own language via the Internet and cable television.

And all around Australia, agencies are earnestly trying to reach them with printed information, brochures and posters, in simple English and clunky translations.

In other words, if health promotion doesn’t engage with the media — news and entertainment, informative and social — that’s a recipe for irrelevance and ineffectiveness.  But the suggestion I heard was, ‘there’s no point in a bunch of health workers sitting around talking about the media.’  We should leave that to the experts.

So I was very interested to read this speech by long-time Labor Senator John Faulkner, talking about the impact of ‘leaving it to the experts’ on Labor’s effectiveness and relevance.  These words in particular:

Progressive, socially aware activists passionate about social and economic reform must never be outsiders to the Labor movement.

Labor cannot thrive as an association of political professionals focused on the machinery of electoral victory and forming, at best, contingent alliances with Australians motivated by and committed to ideals and policies.

A Party organisation staffed by experienced and competent strategists and managers is necessary to serve the campaign and organisational needs of Labor’s members and supporters, not to substitute for them.

The same is true for health promotion and community organisations.  Risk management is important, but it’s not our purpose.

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5 thoughts on “The experts

  1. In the 90s librarians were shitting themselves about the threat of ‘disintermediation’; ie. IT was going to replace them as users went direct to the indexes and sources.

    I agree with you that a powerful informed voice should be able to speak directly to the audience.

    That’s poss. with ‘social networking’ but there’s so much crap out there, who should an audience believe?

    For the librarians (OK, info professionals) they’ve not been made redundant by new media; their role has just changed. And part of that change has been to do with educating users about information quality variances.

    As for Faulkner, is there a hankering after a pollie who was pig-headed, value-driven, a powerful communicator and capable of staring down the opposition on the floor of the house? If so, it seems to me that Howard and Keating fit the bill and both had majorities that gave them license. It’s a different ballgame now.

  2. In Malawi, in southeast Africa, not gossiping can be worse than gossiping. Sarah interviews a young Malawian woman named Hazel Namandingo, who explains that because so many people have HIV and AIDS in Malawi, they often rely on gossip to figure out who’s safe to date or marry. It turns out this kind of gossip is the basis for a huge research project about AIDS in Malawi. For 10 years, a sociologist named Susan Watkins has been collecting journals filled with gossip about AIDS. Watkins hired local people to write the journals—to just listen to what people were saying in their communities about the virus, and then write it down. What Watkins learned from reading them bucked much of the conventional wisdom about how rural Africans were dealing with the epidemic. (Plus, they’re really entertaining.)
    There’s a U Penn website that explains the Malawi Journals Project. And an NGO in Malawi called Invest in Knowledge has catalogued the journals. (30 minutes)
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/444/gossip

  3. A mechanism to comment on the whole blog would be better. I happened to have read this post again.

    • Alright, I’ll look into that. I’m actually not questioning the placement of the link, just asking the question to understand the linkage in your thought process, or what made you think of posting it here.

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