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Reaching for Something to Blog About?

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One of the problems with blogging on a theme is the need to post new material on a regular basis.

I’ve heard some bloggers admit that they reach for something to say when there’s really nothing new rattling around in their heads. That may explain why Steven Poole, who usually hits the nail on the head, sometimes misfires. Those misfires were called to my attention because the June 19 issue of the Ragan Report highlighted several of the words and phrases that have made it into Poole’s book, “Unspeak,” which shares the name of his blog.

“Unspeak,” Poole says, is a “mode of speech that persuades by stealth.” It’s not exactly doublespeak. In fact, it’s more insidious because the media latches onto these phrases and lends them credibility. Examples of unspeak include “tax relief,” to which Poole responds, “Quietly pushes forth the argument that taxes, rather than a civic obligation, are instead an undue burden, a plague, a disease from which one needs relief.’”

All well and good, and Poole’s an astute observer of the media space as well as an engaging writer. But five of the eight examples that ran in the Ragan Report were terribly off the mark:

  • Community-Poole suggests that this label “treats people as if they think with one hive mind.” This is so absurd it defies any rational consideration. Name me one community-other than extremist groups-that thinks with a hive mind. You cannot find a physical community in which everybody agrees; that’s why they have elections. A for other communities, does Pool genuinely suggest that all members of the gay or disabled communities agree on all things? Two minutes of research shows how nonsensical that notion is. I belong to several communities-communications, PR bloggers, podcasters, Jewish, my synagogue, even the Ragan community, and in none of these is there a hive mind. What there IS in a community is shared interest. I have no idea where Poole came up with the notion that members of a community think alike and agree on everything.
  • Thought leader-Poole doesn’t like this because one person told him it means “style journalists.” I suppose anybody can call themselves a thought leader; it doesn’t make them one. Anybody can call themselves UN Secretary General, too. Why dismiss a useful label just because some people abuse it?
  • Spin –Poole says this is unspeak for dishonesty. I say Poole needs to study what he’s talking about before he makes proclamations. While spin can be-and frequently is-misused, in its most basic form, it’s the same as “angle.” As a communicator, I will put different spin on a story when I communicate it to employees than I would when communicating it to, say, customers. Is that an untruth? Absolutely not. Employees NEED different information. For instance, if communicating a product recall, employees need to know what impact the recall will have on their day-to-day jobs. Should they re-prioritize their work? Customers couldn’t care less about that. There’s nothing dishonest in the idea of spin except when it’s used for dishonest purposes.
  • Public relations-According to Poole, PR is “often a one-way massaging of the truth.” Again, there are bottom-feeding members of the PR community (oops, we’re all supposed to think and act alike in a community, aren’t we?) who engage in this kind of behavior; it is upon them that the spotlight shines. The tens of thousands of practitioners engaged in ethical PR never get much attention, nor does their work. But Poole dismisses them and their achievements in managing two-way, symmetrical communications.
  • Human Resources-The very term implies depletion, says Poole: “…humans exist to be used up and replaced when no longer useful.” The primary definition of “resource” in the American Heritage Dictionary is, “Something that can be used for support or help,” and the example given is, “The local library is a valuable resource.” The library! Where books are borrowed and returned and nothing is “used up and replaced.” I guess even Poole can engage in the worst kind of “spin.”

Misuse of a label does not invalidate it unless the misuse becomes the common usage, which is not the case in any of the above examples. There’s nothing wrong with calling people on their appropriation of words and terms-particularly when it’s for nefarious purposes-but to suggest these terms are inherently “unspeak” is, well, an unspeakable mistake.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

Reaching for Something to Blog About?
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