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‘You’ve Lost That Connection’

The insight of CBC's Joe Schlesinger, a Canadian broadcast journalism legend, certainly applies to business as well.


July 1, 2009  


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Earlier this summer, the Canadian Journalism Foundation honoured long-time CBC journalist Joe Schlesinger with a lifetime achievement award. I am a big fan of Schlesinger’s work and think anybody considering a career in broadcast journalism should study it.

As I read a retrospective of his career posted on www.cbc.ca

some of his comments about technology and reporting struck me as relevant to the use of wireless in the world of business.

Schlesinger launched his journalism career in the late 1940s in Prague, and he joined the CBC in 1966. He notes that since that time, the basics of journalism have not changed all that much; however, technology has changed how news is gathered and reported.

Fewer foreign correspondents cover larger territories. Some even report on events while sitting well away from the action because technology makes this possible. But something’s lost along the way.

“Canadian reporters don’t go out as much as they used to, where they can relate to Canadian things. You’ve lost that connection,” Schlesinger says in the CBC profile, adding, “At a time when we need to know as much as we can about the outside world … we’re pulling out.”

Technology’s influence extends well beyond the newsroom, of course. And at a time when the economy is uncertain and companies are looking for ways to control costs, it may be tempting to cut back on staff and leverage technology — especially the ubiquitous connectivity that wireless enables — to make those who remain cover larger territories, or do their work well away from the action (such as a client meeting or a visit to a supplier).

Wireless technologies certainly make that possible.

But they are no substitute for what the well-respected Toyota Production System calls Genchi Genbutsu, which means, “Go and see for your self to thoroughly understand the situation.”

It is important that everyone in your organization — right up to the corner office — recognizes that wireless technology is a tool. It is very useful, but it is not a replacement for Being There. We have all been in meetings (and other places where one’s undivided attention is expected) where someone’s virtual world has taken priority over reality. It was bad enough in the days when “wireless” meant “telephone”.

Today it is worse with the widespread use of devices that not only deliver voice, but also e-mail, texting, surfing, social networking and more.

It is common for audience members to forget to mute their devices, but when presenters and moderators get caught mid-sentence, one has to wonder. I remember one presenter who actually stopped and took the call, which basically told his audience of several hundred that he had more important things to do. That, frankly, is appalling.

Curbing this is easy. Lay down some rules. For starters, no playing with devices in meetings. The meeting organizer can remind attendees of this and embarrass those caught being unable to resist the urge. If you are attending a meeting, leave your device locked in your desk or car. This is especially important if it is a meeting with a client: focus on the client, and Twitter later.

Or not at all. For all the talk of Twitter, you’d think we were all doing it. But a survey by Ipsos Reid in March found that 74% of Canadian Internet users had never even heard of the social networking site. That is not all Canadians — just those of us online. And of the 26% who did know about Twitter, only 6% were actually using it. That translates to 1.45% of those surveyed.

Frankly, I am not surprised. I attended an event once at which screens were set up to project Tweets from audience members. The idea was that if people had questions or comments, they could post them for everybody to see.

Great idea — give everybody a voice. The problem was nobody had anything to contribute to the discussion. Maybe they were busy answering their e-mails, instead of paying attention? Whatever the reason, they had lost that connection that Schlesinger reminds us is so important.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached (on his mobile) at 416-878-7730 or trevor@wordstm.com.

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I remember one presenter who actually stopped and took the call, which basically told his audience of several hundred that he had more important things to do. That, frankly, is appalling.


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