Academic journal article Military Review

VERTICAL VERSUS HORIZONTAL MEDIA: Using Agenda-Setting and Audience Agenda-Melding to Create Public Information Strategies in the Emerging Papyrus Society

Academic journal article Military Review

VERTICAL VERSUS HORIZONTAL MEDIA: Using Agenda-Setting and Audience Agenda-Melding to Create Public Information Strategies in the Emerging Papyrus Society

Article excerpt

I. The Emerging Papyrus Society

After 11 September 2001, when United States and coalition troops engaged Taliban forces in Afghanistan, one of my 20-year-old students told me he was very glad the capable volunteer Army was available to engage in war. I am sure we all are glad that our nation has such proficient, highly motivated, and well-equipped ground, air, and naval forces to represent us. Still, my student might have made the same comment about the local fire department coming to extinguish a dormitory fire. For him, fighting wars, like fighting fires, seemed to be the special province of trained professionals; the rest of us belonged on the sidelines. Incredibly, he added that he would hate to think that such important missions would have to rely on draftees. But it is draftees who lie row on row in graves in Europe, in the small towns of America, and in Arlington National Cemetery. These extraordinary yet ordinary Americans shouldered their share of the communal burden in past national crises, when citizenship presumed service, and they performed superbly. Today we have a volunteer military, and we still have some sense of shared history and commitment to community, but communities evolve. Ours is-and in a challenging way.

Let's begin with a metaphor to describe this evolving community. I had an opportunity several years ago to visit the three towering pyramids at Giza, where the many stones at the base support the fewer stones at the top more than 400 feet up. Like other tourists, I marveled at ancient Egyptian engineering. What a view of the surrounding sands (and modern Cairo) there must be from the top! If Demosthenes had stood there, transported in time and place, thousands might have heard his apparently magnificent voice. Nearby, in Giza itself, shops still produce ancient Egyptian papyrus paper by trimming the outside green covering of the triangular papyrus reed, then cutting and pressing the pulpy white strands inside the plant. Craftsmen lay one strip down, then one over and another down and so forth, like Scottish tartan plaid, to form sheets that can be connected, dried, then rolled into a scroll resembling the rolling pin in your kitchen. Scrolls were the books of the ancient world, and the words written on the flat horizontal surfaces they contained came to challenge the power of those who stood at the top of organizational pyramids.

Such is our argument. From papyrus to animal-skin vellum to Johannes Gutenberg's books, from newspapers and magazines to radio and television to satellites, computers, the Web, and iPods, communication technology has demonstrated the power to level societies, perhaps not from the point of view of those who lead our necessary organizations, but certainly from the point of view of those being led. In the 1930s, Albert Speer, Adolph Hitler's chief of armaments (among other roles), remarked on his leader's power to reach the masses, allowing citizens and party members to share the same message at the same time.2 Of course, Hitler moved to smash alternative agendas, but leaders today, even in China and North Korea, have found that horizontal media communications-not the vertical mass-media television and radio networks, but niche magazines, websites, blogs, cable TV shows, satellite radio stations, and such-nibble at the foundations of power. The era of mass media is passing into history, and as it does, the ability of leaders to shape and control national agendas is diminishing; in fact, their agenda-setting is now quite often contested.

This is where we find ourselves today. We, as individual Americans, are blending the agendas of vertical and horizontal media into that Scottish weave, like ancient papyrus paper, thus creating a more horizontal, papyrus-like society less responsive to univocal sources of information. The U.S. Armed Forces today need a public information strategy that fits this papyrus society emerging around us. Vertical and horizontal forces, as we shall see, have competed for centuries to be the dominant public media portraying important public issues. …

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