Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why I Decided Not To Talk To A Reporter

So I wrote a blog called "On The Use Of Memes In Government Communication" and the Wall Street Journal wanted to talk to me. 

Obviously that was a very tempting opportunity, right? I mean, I've been writing about controversial topics for a pretty long time, and it's not like I shy away from the spotlight. But in the end I said "no."

I'll admit I am still ambivalent about that.

The genesis of this issue was a meme.  I asked a colleague to come up with engaging visuals to portray the mission of my office, which is pretty complex for the average person. 

In response she generated all these great ideas, and I was awestruck. In a single brushstroke (or so it seemed to me, because they took her quite a long time to craft) she captured the essence of what we were trying to say.

But then one of the memes went a bit too far. It showed the head of a popular male meme character from the show "Game of Thrones," combined with an attractive woman's body wearing a somewhat revealing bathing suit manufactured with advanced materials - the kind of advanced materials our program seeks to promote the development of. 

Both revolting and compelling, and just on the line between genius and exploitation.

I wasn't sure if this was OK. So we asked for approval, and got it, although unbeknownst to us the approver had the same reservations. And surely enough, within about 5 minutes of posting to Twitter, it was vetoed and taken down for its potentially offensive nature.

And no, I'm not showing it to you, although I think I could. Because to do so would be to undermine the veto. 

The discussion and feedback around the meme was sufficiently rich and varied that the topic seemed worthy of exploration. I wrote a detailed post about the use of memes in government communication. 

It considered both the copyright issues that memes appear to generate as well as those surrounding the murky question of taste.

Other government communicators are regularly interviewed and quoted by the media. 

Yet I chose not to be interviewed regarding my thoughts on a subject I had written about. For the following reasons:

1) My post really did cover all the things I had to say on the matter. I didn't want to speculate.

2) I couldn't say with 100% confidence that my interview would be clearly portrayed as an individual opinion.

3) I did not want to speak in an off-the-record capacity because this creates the impression that there is something I am afraid of saying with my name on it. 

In the end, public service is a public trust -- so is communication.

It is not always easy to figure out what to do.

But in the end, taking the time to talk it over is usually worthwhile.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.