Thursday, June 17, 2010

Corporate polluters

"Us v. the polluters," especially corporate polluters, seems to carry more weight with people than "save the environment."  Ben Smith of Politico has a link to the polling research, here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Titles are tools - your core message belongs there

The Immigration Policy Center sent out an e-mail yesterday promoting birthright citizenship and provided links to an accompanying blog post and fact check.  The body of the e-mail, the body of the post, and the body of the fact check make these points:

  • Citizenship is our birthright
  • Birthright citizenship is a cornerstone of American and Colonial history
  • The Constitution takes birthright citizenship as seriously as free speech, the right to bear arms, and a woman's right to vote
  • Birthright citizenship is simple and straightforward
  • Birthright citizenship recognizes the innocence of children
  • Birthright citizenship always has multiplied, and still does multiply, the number of law-abiding citizens in this country
But none of those points appears in the title of the blog post or the e-mail, or in the title or paragraph headers of the fact check.

Those points go to the core message that the IPC is trying to drive home, so the IPC should have put them in its bullet points, headers, and titles.

Those devices are tools.  Readers who skim your article will pick them up.  Readers who read deeper will be guided by and remember them.

Use your titles to communicate your core message.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rebut like Steve Jobs: don't let their frame on your stage

Steve Jobs on his way into the Oscars
Photo by Zadi Diaz.  Licensed via Creative Commons.

Rebut your opponent with your frame, not theirs.

The experience of hearing you should induce amnesia as to the other frame.  Do not remind your audience of the other frame, and never, ever repeat it verbatim.

To some, this is harder than it sounds.  To rebut, you must first lay out the opposition's argument, right?


Maybe it will help to see someone pull it off.  Take Steve Jobs of Apple, master of the techno sales speech.  Jobs is always pitching his consumer goods as the right choice over other technology, but he does not repeat anybody else's frame but his own.

Take a look at these three rebuttals in Jobs' recent keynote speech in San Francisco:

Rebuttal #1:
Apple supports two platforms: the App Store and HTML5.  The former is "a curated platform with over 225,000 apps - the most vibrant app community on the planet," and the latter is "a fully open, uncontrolled platform forged by widely respected standards bodies." 
Rebuttal #2:
95% of the 15,000 apps submitted to the App Store each week are approved within 7 days, with the unlucky 5% being turned down because their apps don't do what they promise, they flat don't work, or they're built with code that will break the app if we ever upgrade the phone.
Rebuttal #3:
iPhone vs. Android - iPhone has 3 times the smartphone market share of Android, and 2-1/2 times Android's share of U.S. mobile browser usage.
Do you know the opponents' arguments, and their supposed evidence, after having heard Jobs? No, you don't, and that's the sign of a clean re-frame.

FYI, the first rebuttal was to address a very public war about whether Adobe's Flash technology should be supported by the iPhone.  The audience didn't hear Jobs say "Adobe" or "Flash" once, and Jobs didn't set up the Adobe argument to rebut it.  Jobs just said what he needed people to hear so that if their "Apple = reasonable and accessible" heart switch wasn't already turned on, then it was after Jobs spoke.

Sure, Jobs referenced the fact that there are other frames out there besides his.  In the context of the third rebuttal, he said this:
There have been a lot of statistics floating around, market research, market share studies, and some of them are OK, and some of them are questionable, and I'd like to just give you two pieces of data that can help you make your own judgments about market share.
But he didn't repeat the other side's frame.  His slides didn't show their bullet points. Hearing Jobs, you don't know any statistics except the ones that tell Jobs' story.

In contrast, below I give three examples of the unfortunately common practice of repeating the enemy frame, followed by a "fix" - what I think they should have done instead:

Thinking about cardboard now?  Yes.
Fix: sell the "sizzle" of the good taste.

"We interrupt this movie to remind you where the exits are."
Fix: focus on what the law actually does.

"FoxNews makes our ears bleed - here's how you can shove an ice pick in yours."
Fix: create a version with bleeps or another gimmick where the offending words are.

Yes, the opposition may be annoying, they are certainly wrong, and you want to show the world how and why. Fine. Go to town.

Just remember Steve Jobs, and don't let their frame on your stage.

See also: Don't Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff

Friday, June 11, 2010

Framing request for journalists: use familiar words

Photo by Meg.  Licensed via Creative Commons.
When it's a story about soccer, people from outside the U.S. are called "natives" of their home country, and "expatriates."  In a variety of contexts, those two words are often used to describe Americans, too.  So the immigrants in the soccer story seem familiar to us, because we have read about them in words that often describe us.

But when it's a story about immigration law, people from outside the U.S. are almost never called "expatriates."  Trust me, I've been paying attention to this one.  And if you want to see for yourself, your search in Google News for the words "expatriates" and "immigration" in the same story will come up with fewer than 100 hits.

Journalists: if you use two different sets of vocabulary for the same group of people - immigrants - depending on whether the issue is about something we're all somewhat familiar with (sports/soccer) or something we're not all familiar with (immigration), that differentiation forces readers into a familiar frame of mind for the former and an unfamiliar frame of mind for the latter.

Here's a remedy: use familiar words more frequently.  There's no journalistic reason not to, and it will build a more familiar frame around immigrants when we talk about immigration law.  Here's how you can do it - find a place for "expatriate" in a story about immigration law - and use that word. Let me know in the comments if you don't think you can or should.

Having said that, I have to return to a point I've made before, which is that immigration-centric labels themselves should be discarded if unnecessary, no matter how "good" or familiar they are.  Case in point: in the soccer story linked above, the immigrants are also described as "Maury County resident," "soccer backers," or "Nashville's [first and last name]."

That's even better.  So here's a revised suggestion for the journalists: after "expatriate," say "Nashville's Juana Villegas," or whatever name it is of the person you're writing about.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Finding hidden treasure

Photo by Lip Jin Lee.  Licensed via Creative Commons.
According to the Heath Brothers, "sticky" messages can be either created or found. Getting your message into the right frame is easier if you keep your eyes and ears open, because someone else may already have the frame you need.

Podcasts are one good place to look for new frames.  Always on the prowl for a good pro-migrant frame that goes beyond the common - and often progressive - promigrant arguments, I hunted in iTunes for a conservative frame, starting with a simple word search for "immigration." Hidden among the many results were plenty of pro-migrant conservative frames.

For instance, there was this libertarian Mormon podcast. One particular discussion about immigrants, which starts at the 21-minute mark of this episode, hammers home freedom of contract:
Why should I have to ask the government permission to contract with this guy from outside the country?
That's just one of the various conservative frames I found on that search, and I may post the others I found in the days to come, but the point is that frames can be found.

Try this: pick a topic, head to iTunes, and find at least one frame that is new to you.  Tell me in the comments what you uncovered.