Control the narrative? 操纵舆论

2019.12.06

Reader question:

Please explain “control the narrative”, as in this: Control your information and control the narrative of your business.

My comments:

Sounds like something for the Public Relations department of a company to say. To paraphrase: Control the way you tell the story of your company and thereby preserve the positive image you want to carve out for your business – no matter what happens.

If some unhappy employee has set his workshop on fire, for example, instead of trying to find and punish that unhappy man, the PR people may want to focus on heaping praise on a few employees who put the fire out before the whole house is burned down.

Instead of giving out information about that unhappy employee who is not entirely right in the mind and so forth, the PR people want to keep talking about the few brave firefighters who happen to be at the right place at the right time.

The narrative, you see, is a story, an account of what happens. To control the narrative is literally to control the way you tell a story, serving a particular theme or purpose.

In the example I give, if the company focuses on the arsonist, how disgruntled and unhappy he is at work and what severe punishment he deserves, etc., the message the public take away may well be that this company is a very unhappy place.

By focusing on the firefighters, on the other hand, an opposite message is sent out – that employees really care about their working place.

I’m giving a simplified example. Crisis management isn’t easy of accomplishment in actuality, of course. But, I hope, you’ll get an idea of what it means to control the narrative.

Or, in other words, control the message.

Or just tell YOUR story – tell it YOUR way.

Lest others tell it for you – and tell it very differently, perhaps casting you in a bad light.

Anyways, here are recent media examples:

1. If Tiger Woods gets it right in the autobiography he's writing, he’ll have the best-selling sports book of all time. Strangely enough, even if he gets it wrong, the result will probably be the same.

For his sake, I hope he produces a truthful, well-written account of his extraordinary life in all its parts, because only then will he get the respect he deserves as a person as much as a golfer.

If he writes honestly and openly about himself and leaves it up to us to balance the positives and negatives as we see fit, he’ll earn not only millions of dollars in book sales around the world but also the right to genuine contentment in the second half of his life.

On the other hand, if he tries to control the narrative and present an image he wants us to see and believe, he’ll still make plenty of money but few new friends. Scepticism will continue to haunt him and everything he says in the future.

For the moment though, everything sounds good. His publishers, Harper Collins, say the book, entitled ‘Back’, is a “candid and intimate narrative of an outsize American life”. They also mention Tiger’s status as a global icon and that’s why I say the book will sell so many copies.

- Tiger Woods must open up in autobiography, by David Livingstone, SkySports.com, October 17, 2019.

2. Kenny Stills was a bit wary of the NFL’s planned workout for free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, telling reporters in Houston this week that he feared the league was trying to create “some type of media circus.”

On Sunday, after the Houston Texans’ 41-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Stills said it looks like his concerns were validated.

“It’s all hearsay, but if it’s true about what was put in the waiver, trying to keep Colin from taking further legal action on the league and things like that, then it was exactly what we thought,” Stills told USA TODAY Sports, “which is just a media circus and the league trying to cover their tail, as usual.”

The NFL informed teams Tuesday that it would hold a private workout for Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 as a means of protesting police brutality and racial inequality. The workout was initially scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility, but Kaepernick’s camp abruptly moved it to a high school approximately 60 miles away.

Kaepernick’s agents said the NFL asked the 32-year-old to sign “an unusual liability waiver” and refused their requests to open the event to the media, prompting the change. The NFL said it sent Kaepernick a “standard liability waiver” and it was “disappointed” that he did not participate in the workout.

“He’s got to do whatever he has to do to protect himself, and I think that’s what he’s done,” Stills said of Kaepernick. “He’s asking for transparency, and I think that’s what he deserves. ... I think he did what he had to do to get the workout off, and it looked like he had a good workout. He’s prepared and ready to go, like he said. So I look forward to a team signing him.”

Stills has long been an ally of Kaepernick’s and is one of the few remaining players who continues to kneel during the national anthem.

Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, another such player, also voiced support for Kaepernick after his own game Sunday, praising his former San Francisco 49ers teammate for taking the workout into his own hands.

The NFL wanted to control the narrative by not letting independent media into the workout to document the workout,” Reid told reporters. “They wouldn’t even tell him who was going to run his routes for him. They wouldn’t even give him a script for the workout. Is Colin supposed to trust the organization that’s blackballing him? He’s not that naive.”

Stills echoed that sentiment.

“It’s hard for there to be trust,” he said, “when the trust has been broken before.”

- Kenny Stills, Eric Reid say NFL made 'circus' out of Colin Kaepernick's workout, USAToday.com, November 17, 2019.

3. When I was a kid, it dawned on me at some point that Santa Claus had the same handwriting as my mother. I was actually relieved; I could now attribute the injustice of my sister receiving a hamster and a rose-scented Barbie doll the same year I got a copy of Gulliver’s Travels to the collapse of my parents’ resolve in the face of my sister’s relentless demands. I hadn’t committed some cosmic crime that had landed me on Santa’s worldwide naughty list after all; I just hadn’t been persistent enough.

I don’t have children, so I’ve never had to break the news to anyone that Santa’s a sham. I’ll definitely be sad when my niece no longer bothers to leave out cookies and “reindeer food” for Santa, though. And I’ll be even sadder when Elf on the Shelf stops working as a bargaining tool: “What’s that, Elf? You don’t like it when little girls borrow their aunt’s very expensive bronzer without asking? You’re going to tell Santa if she doesn’t return it right this second? Uh-oh!”

For those with kids, figuring out how to handle the Santa situation can be a tricky parenting hurdle. Some households are Santa-free for religious reasons. Others, like that of my high school classmate Andy and his wife, dispense with the truth from the get-go as a matter of trust.

“We didn’t like the idea of lying to them and then having to tell the truth later,” Andy says of the decision to be straight up about the Santa myth with his two sons. “We told them from the beginning that it was a game. Some families play, and others don’t, so don’t spoil their fun.”

Hilary Thompson, a Salt Lake City-based family health consultant, says guilt and the fear someone else might spill the beans prompted her to come clean with her 8-year-old daughter. Thompson was able to put a positive spin on the story, however. “A couple of months ago, I took her out for ice cream and said, ‘Do you ever wonder how Santa gets to all the millions of kids on Christmas?’” she shares. “When she said yes, I told her it was because he had helpers. I told her that when kids get old and mature enough, their parents recruit them to be a Santa. I told her that I didn’t know if Santa still lived or if he just watches over this process, but I trusted her age and wisdom to handle this special task. I also warned her that some kids aren’t mature enough yet and their parents haven’t recruited them, so she needs to keep this to herself. She loved that.”

“I told her that I needed her to be her little sister’s Santa and anyone else’s Santa that needed it,” Thompson adds. “Even if it wasn’t Christmas. Santa is about giving from your heart anonymously, so from now on, she and I are going to watch for ways in which we can be Santa all year long… This not only preserved our relationship; it teaches a valuable lesson about giving. She loves to wink at me when we talk about Christmas in front of her little sister and is so excited to go shopping for her with me and fill her stocking on Christmas Eve. I have no regrets anymore. I gave her magic until she was 8, and I gave her the spirit of giving for the rest of her life.”

Of course, it’s worth remembering that parents aren’t always able to control the narrative. Though Texas-based mom Cheri Infante and her husband had never made a huge deal out of Santa — “no Elf on the Shelf for us,” she says — they were taken aback when their then-7-year-old son confronted them after discussing the matter with friends.

“‘Tell me the truth: Is Santa real?’” Infante recalls her son asking. “We do not ever want him to think we lie to him, so we told him the truth… but we have told him that if he ruins the surprise for his younger sister and his cousins, ‘Santa’ will not bring him any gifts.”

- Parents Reveal How They Broke the News That Santa Isn’t Real, by Erin Donnelly, Yahoo.com, December 6, 2019.

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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