The trouble with the most expensive word

The trouble with the most expensive word is that it looks so ordinary. You can canter along without really thinking about it for years.  Then BAM, something happens, and it bites.   The most expensive word is the same whether you are an individual or a business.  And when it slaps you, it always hurts, it is usually costly and it is not always fair.

I’d liken the way it happens to a game of Jenga. You start strong.  Then, a little at a time something gets chipped away.  It’s nothing significant.  Your friends and competitors are doing the same.  The chipping away becomes normal.  Everything seems fine.  Then, one day you chip away at another brick. It’s no bigger nor more significant than the last but without warning, the whole stack collapses and you are left in a mess with an almighty headache.

There are three main reasons the most expensive word isn’t always fair:

  1. You might not have done anything differently to your peers – you just happen to pull the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
  2. It’s very hard to tell your side of the story from underneath the rubble. It’s also easier for others to pick through the debris and find your dirty laundry.
  3. You might not have been the player who pulled out the destabilising brick. Indeed, you might have even refused to play the game.  Unfortunately though, if you are part of the same tower, when it all comes crashing down the chances are you’ll be impacted – like I said, unfair.

The headlines are full of those who have tripped over the most expensive word. Despite being so well versed in it though, the media itself has tripped and finds the tables turned.  Trump’s war on “fake news” has put all journalists in the spotlight because this story is all about the most expensive word… trust.

Yes, that short and ordinary word is the most expensive because it takes so long to earn and seconds to lose. Whilst it might be curiously satisfying to see the media’s reaction as they become the headline, we should be concentrated on the potential long-term consequences for communications.  Remember, the damage from broken trust isn’t always fair.

What are the implications for our society if people are completely distrusting of our established news media? Are we more or less likely to get ‘the facts’ if professional journalists are excluded from briefings and replaced with citizen reportage?  Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely a place for citizen journalism but to aid and augment traditional news – not substitute it.

The journalistic profession has served society’s need for checks and balances. In a digital and commercially-pressured world it would appear Trump is now asking ‘who guards the guards?’ That may well be a legitimate question for some but the broken trust net has been cast wide, with potentially far-reaching media implications.  What happens collectively if we don’t feel we can trust – particularly those we have traditionally entrusted?  What happens if we are legitimately encouraged to accept views over news?

Hasbro has produced a new game called Jenga Quake. It’s built on the same premise as the old but, without warning, the base of the tower shakes, destabilising the entire structure.  It doesn’t take too many shocks for all the pieces to fall or for players to realise the odds are stacked against them.  The updated game feels relevant in today’s politically unstable environment because the most expensive word is currently balancing on shaky and unprecedented ground.


Published by

Alex Duff

Freelance Communications Professional

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