‘Communicate, Communicate, Communicate’ Isn’t So Easy in a Fractured Town

Some years ago, an administrator (no longer with the school district) told others that a good practice for leaders was to ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’ with the community. The concept makes sense: craft a message and then make sure it’s heard by repeating it. In a small town, how hard could that be?

As it turns out, in a small town that’s divided along ideological and cultural lines, it is hard. See Whitewater’s Local Politics 2021.

An example is a recent question, from Whitewater’s police chief to a newspaper reporter, as recounted in Community Action’s leader responds to police chief’s concerns on voucher program. It’s an ordinary practice for appointed or elected officials to seed topics in the press (although often the story conceals the origin of the official’s question). In this case, the story’s very title makes clear that the inquiry about the voucher came from a city official.

Indeed, the story is by evident design a reply to the chief’s question, with statements about ongoing oversight from a manager and a beneficiary of the voucher program.

Still, there’s nothing untoward about officials calling or writing to reporters in the hope that those reporters will inquire along lines the officials suggest.

What’s different, in Whitewater, is that this small town likely will not have one ‘community’ view about a topic, and what an official might hope would lead to a majority opinion will instead spawn a few differing opinions, not one of which will amount to a majority viewpoint. These different, opposing views will make their way online, as they did in this case.

More significant, those differing opinions will vary in quality, with some being strident, exaggerated, or simply false. (Some of the flimsiest claims in the present matter imply that the claimants are in possession of information that could only have, if true, come from official sources that revealed details of ongoing investigations. As it’s unlikely that anyone learned anything that way, it’s more likely that claims of inside knowledge are false.)

A question about vouchers, for example, may begin its journey well-fed and suitably dressed, only to become malnourished and thread-bare once a few others get hold of it.

The school administrator who once advised to ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’ underestimated the difficultly of communication in a splintered community. (Indeed, she understood the local scene poorly in many ways.) At best, counting on others to carry a topic forward relies on an uncertain band of local messengers. Some will prove articulate, some inarticulate. At worst, it leaves a message in the hands of others who will amplify it into discordance and dissonance.

Government can – and will – decide for itself. This libertarian blogger is not in the business of advising public officials, and they’re not in the business of taking a libertarian blogger’s advice.

It’s simply true that in Whitewater the audition for a topic or message faces an uncertain reception, as the audience is of differing tastes.

The reception is even more fraught when others, of varying skill or motivation, pick up the tune.

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