The website Media Matters produced a nice factoid: In the first half of this year, media coverage of the Kardashians was more than 40 times that of the thrilling topic of ocean acidification. Is anyone surprised? Hope not.
DEATH, TAXES AND OCEAN ACIDIFICATION (Name three things you don’t want to hear about).
THE ACID OCEAN REALITY SHOW
A little while back Brett Howell tweeted me this tragi-comic article from Media Matters about the gap in media coverage between the gossip-fodderoids The Kardashians and the not-yet-figured-out-how-to-communicate topic of ocean acidification (big thanks, Brett, sorry it took me a while to get to this, been a busy summer). Turns out there was a 40 times difference for the first half of this year.
The question to ask is, “Does there have to be a gap?” In theory I would say no. But in reality, yep. So you might say, “I guess it’s hopeless,” but I would say, “No, its a question of priorities.” Here’s the basic dilemma …
GOOD, FAST OR CHEAP (PICK TWO)
I’ve run through this before, but this is another case that it applies to. In Hollywood, when you go to your production designer on the set of a movie and say, “I want you to build me the Oval Office,” your production designer will usually reply with, “Okay, good, fast or cheap — pick two. I can make it good and fast, but it’s going to cost you a fortune, I can make it good and cheap, but it’s going to take a few months as I try to recruit friends to donate resources for free, or I can make it for you overnight and for nothing, but you’re gonna have to use your imagination because it ain’t gonna look very good.”
That’s the real world. And the science world, where “fast and cheap” usually rules when it comes to communication (or even slow and cheap!). I know. I was a scientist. Plus I just spoke at a major science meeting (which was a great session, but) where they not only didn’t pay me, they held the meeting in a room with a tiny screen (one third of the size it should have been, using the general rule of thumb they taught us in film school of one inch of screen width per viewer), no speakers for video clips (I had to hold the microphone to my laptop speaker), and no wireless microphone for the presenter. That, to me, is a giant statement of, “We really don’t give a crap if anyone can hear or see you, just show up and do your dog and pony show, whatever.” That’s the science world for you. (and today there’s no excuse given the easy access to examples of how to do it right with all the TED Talks available online, plus this was at a major convention center which could provide bigger screens for starters if anyone asked, but I’m guessing no one even asked — scientists just don’t care about communication)
GOOD COMMUNICATION COSTS
That’s all I can tell you. Good, fast or cheap. You get what you pay for. Wanna know why “An Inconvenient Truth,” didn’t have any net effect on the polls (and it didn’t — look at the Gallup Poll — if you think it did, you’re living in the environmental bubble)? They chose fast and cheap. They rushed it into production in the fall of 2005 in panicked response to the summer of 5 hurricanes.
They did not spend $10 million to hire the very best screenwriters in Hollywood to pull a month of all-nighters and come up with a powerfully structured story that mass audiences would be enraptured with and want to tell and retell for decades. No, they rushed a prominent speaker onto a stage to shoot three takes of the Powerpoint presentation he had been giving for a while. No fault of his. He was just trying to help. It was whoever made the decision for cheap and fast. And the science world for not having high enough communication standards to distance themselves immediately from such an effort. Oh, well.
You want to know how to make the topic of ocean acidification compete with the Kardashians? Choose fast, expensive and excellent. The environmental movement is overflowing with funding (just look at last year’s Climate Shift report), and the problem is going to be around for a long time. But if the approach continues to be fast and cheap, don’t expect anyone to take much interest. Until, of course, there’s a major crisis. And then it’s too late. Ho hum.