Connections: John Hagel, whose Edge Perspectives blog I regard as essential reading and whose Twitter posts (@jhagel) I follow, linked on Wednesday to an optimistic column about America that David Brooks wrote on Monday for the New York Times called, “The Crossroads Nation” (recommended). In it, Brooks refers to a longer essay titled “America’s Edge” (also recommended) in the Jan./Feb. 2009 number of Foreign Affairs written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, then professor and dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. [That makes four connections in this paragraph.]
I was struck in reading essays how applicable they are to the public media world, even though it’s about relationships, mostly economic, among nations.
Slaughter argues that, “In this world, the measure of power is connectedness,” and “the state with the most connections will be the central player, able to set the global agenda and unlock innovation and sustainable growth.” Further, “networked power flows from the ability to make the maximum number of valuable connections.” She states, “If, in a networked world, the issue is no longer relative power but centrality in an increasingly dense global web, then the explosion of innovation and entrepreneurship occurring today will provide that many more points of possible connection.
Public media broadcasters and new entrants utilizing the web as a medium are challenged today to find sustaining support in a world where disruptive change is endemic; where individual giving, and, in particular, the transactional pledging for public TV seem to be unable to sustain cost increases and, in some cases, can be corrosive of mission; where tax-based funding is under unprecedented scrutiny; and where all types of organizations with which we share a non-profit status are themselves trying – without us -- to utilize the social media and web publishing tools that are so ubiquitous and easy to engage.
Although these data provide a too easy view of a pessimistic future for public media, I’d argue that Slaughter’s and Brooks’ analyses of the power of connectedness for nations should also lead us to an optimistic view of its power for public media. There are lots of examples of this as an emerging force for positive change for us – Twin Cities Public Television, the ideastream public TV and radio group in Cleveland, the KETC/St. Louis Beacon collaboration, the Argo journalism “verticals” consortium between NPR and 12 member stations, the work of the National Center for Media Engagement, and more. All are aimed at making community connections simultaneously more numerous and deeper, with the public media entity occupying a key role.
Our edge here includes the content talents and skills of our staff members; our physical interconnections among public media entities, the commodity internet and, in many cases, to advanced education and research networks; station-associated boards with deep connections within our communities; one of the largest “megaphones” within our communities to build awareness; and a growing competence in best practices for web, mobile and social media.
As an industry, we need to make a commitment to take these beyond emerging steps and toward fully embracing “connectedness” as a key expression of our mission. We do have an edge, but it needs a lot of sharpening. When we do, we’ll have earned the right to be optimistic again.