For all the fancy new technology mediums we’ve developed over the past century, writing remains the core skill that feeds all other forms of communication, the bedrock upon all other communication is constructed.
Radio executives will argue the spoken word and sound effects cannot be beat.
Television producers will herald the power of TV and point to how public opinion swung against the Vietnam War when CBS News and other network newscasts turned it into a “living room war.”
Cinematographers will argue there’s nothing more powerful than motion pictures – the sound, color, drama and musical crescendos that are the hallmarks of the Silver Screen.
Internet advocates will reason that the web is most powerful of all because it’s a convergent medium, bringing together the written and spoken word along with video, audio and computer-generated imagery. It has become the gathering place for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Orators will naturally cite great speakers such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama and point to examples of how they moved the masses and changed the course of history with their speeches, their calls to action, their inspiration.
True enough. Barack Obama serves as a good example for the validity of my argument. The president always delivers his speeches using a teleprompter because he’s reading text. The speech is carefully written before he ever steps to the lectern and is fastidiously adhered to during its delivery. If not for the word-craft of President Obama and his speechwriters, his skill as an orator would be greatly diminished. Obama repeatedly made the point during his presidential run that words have power.
We know the same is true of President Reagan, who relied on the speechwriting skills of Peggy Noonan and others to deliver his powerhouse speeches. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t extemporizing at the podium and neither was Winston Churchill during their historic presentations. They carefully penned those speeches, paying strict attention to every word, turn of phrase, transition and the overall structure of the speech. Indeed, Winston Churchill also authored many books and famously said, “History will treat me kindly because I intend to be the one who writes it.” Churchill was a prolific writer with many books to his credit.
Churchill knew the written word lasts forever – in its many forms.
Movies – whether classics or duds – begin with the formation of words in the screenwriter’s or director’s mind. A concept takes shape, and then the screenplay must be written. It is the quality of the screenplay that is the chief determinant of the movie’s fate. Grand pyrotechnics and ostentatious special effects may intoxicate the eyes but vast expenditures on highly-produced movies often turn into spectacular failures for lack of a captivating or enriching storyline. The human mind naturally seeks a narrative, a plot, something that creates story and gives the movie direction.
It was the dazzling concept and story arc of The Matrix that made it one of the favorite sci-fi films of our time, and the lack of story that caused its sequels to disintegrate before our eyes. The two sequels were nothing more than a collection of disjointed battle scenes that left audience searching for continuity and meaning.
Think of great TV series like All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues and Seinfeld. Their success was driven by quality of the shows’ writers. Good luck getting a decorated actor to agree to a script that doesn’t offer memorable or distinguishing lines and characters. (Okay, I’ll acknowledge that it’s not unusual for a big-name actor to take to a $20 million payday [or should I say bribe?] to act in a movie they know is doomed to be a stinker.) Seinfeld, the TV show that was famously “about nothing,” was driven by quality concepts, vivid characters and scintillating dialogue.
Radio personalities Garrison Keillor and Howard Stern weren’t flying by the seat of their pants while the microphone was hot. They were supported by the written word because they wanted to make sure they would be delivering some signature lines during their broadcasts, something memorable that their listeners would share with others. It is only when people repeat what they see and hear that a program takes on true status.
Now we’re in the internet age and between websites, blogs, podcasts, video productions, e-zines and whatnot, more people are doing more writing and reading than ever in history. A recent, albeit unscientific, survey conducted by blogging guru Denise Wakeman of The Blog Squad showed that 70 percent of respondents preferred getting their information via text rather than audio or video. This should come as no surprise.
The printed word has no equal for speed and versatility. Just try skimming or "speed-reading" a podcast or video. Writing fires the imagination while video supplies all the components and leaves nothing to the imagination. And, as philosophers have noted, it is only in man’s imagination that he is truly free.
Who would have believed that children would be reading tomes the length of the Harry Potter series? You cannot replicate the intimacy, character development and adventure of storytelling with anything less than the careful considerations of the written word.
Business executives should take special note. The written word permeates everything they do, from business plans and sales presentations to marketing campaigns and investor relations. If they buy into the false notion that the written word has been slain by audio, video and a fancy mélange of motion graphics, they should prepare to write a good eulogy because their business just might be dead.