When you’re communicating in an attempt to persuade, you’ve got to choose and define the audience and the message. You’ve got to get that right, because if you don’t then nothing else will go right.
For instance, if you’re writing about anesthesia, your audience could be the patients, the doctors, the families, or the insurance company. If your audience is patients, the article might be “Anesthesia: Expectations and Recovery”; for doctors the article might be “Anesthetic Efficacy of the Palatal–Anterior Superior Alveolar Injection”. Neither audience will endure the message written for the other.
Suppose you want to discuss the outsourcing of FAA flight service through the A-76 process.
If you’re writing to an operational audience, say pilots and controllers, you describe the debacle at the level of detail the audience knows. Difficulty getting flight plans, people from Fort Worth calling Kansas for releases, cancellations not received, PIREPs not forwarded, pilots calling facilities on their cellphones, and the general sense that we’re all working around the problem and nobody is fixing it.
If you’re writing to a general audience, you couldn’t use the operational perspective – they’re not going to sit through “FSS 101” long enough to get the context. To that audience you’re going to talk about the loss of face-to-face customer service, the loss of area knowledge, and the extent to which other functions are distracted or delayed by the change.
If you’re writing to a well-informed and educated audience, you might discuss how A-76 deals with competitive bidding for commercial activities, and stress that FSS is not a commercial activity – that it’s an inherently governmental function – and that the Bush Administration’s use of the A-76 process was inappropriate, political, and even corrupt.
You’ve got to choose the correct audience, and write to that audience.
The best book I’ve read about the 1981 PATCO strike is Grounded: Reagan and the PATCO Crash. This 1999 book compares the audiences, the stories, and the values that each side in this conflict choose to address. They say that PATCO presented esoteric claims that were hard for the general public to understand through mass media, while the Reagan administration presented themes like “overpaid”, “vow-breaking”, and “radical” which were easily conveyed by the media and consumed by the public. The detailed and technical claims of the controllers did not sway the public in the way that Reagan’s characterization of them did, and the battle was decided in the court of public opinion. The side that did a better job of choosing audience and message, and executing the communication, won the day.
Let’s talk about NextGen within the ATC context. Everybody I know that discusses NextGen is talking “inside baseball”, which is to say they’re speaking jargon to internal audiences. The corporations that hope to profit from NextGen, in ways that may be dubious, aren’t really communicating much to the insiders – they’ve chosen for their audience the flying public and the taxpayers, and they’ve been selling them their NextGen story for two years. They tell the public that the systems they sell can solve their problems, and they show them pictures like the one below, and they’re convincing the taxpayers to give them money.
The choice of audience and message isn’t merely an academic distinction, because the people that make decisions aren’t inside the facilities or cockpits; they’re the voters and the politicians. Right now, the only people speaking to the voters about NextGen are the industrial vendors who are trying to ensure demand for their products.
I don’t know what terms are best to use for the general public – Jane Q. Public, Joe SixPack, Soccer Mom, Hockey Mom, Joe Doakes – but I think that we’re not communicating our story about the future of the profession to them, and I think our competitors like Boeing ATC and LockMart (who don’t have our best interest in mind) have been selling their story for a while.
If we allow others to sell techno-wizard stories of our future, and we don’t participate in (if not dominate) that public discussion, we’ll have abandoned our profession’s future to people who have their own profitability as their chief motivation. I’m afraid we’re already behind.