I’ll admit that when I started in the PR business, after working in broadcast news, I wasn’t totally sure what “talking points” were.
That seems unimaginable now.
The term wasn’t at all mainstream in the ’90s. I don’t think I ever heard it in a newsroom or read it published anywhere. I quickly learned that, back then anyway, it meant the key points that a spokesperson should be able to communicate in an interview. It was impossible to envision how talking points could take over discourse.
We’re living in Talking Points Nation now. Simple, if not oversimplified, points dominate any conversation and they come together more quickly and stick around for even longer than could have possibly been anticipated.
Of course, we see this in national politics, which seems to rule over everything in our society. Just look at the horrific school shooting in Texas just a few weeks ago. Let’s just use the “idea” that schools should have “only one door” as an example. Seemingly instantly, that talking point began circulating. First a politician says something on cable “news.” Then, because it’s provocative, it gets spread around social media and other news outlets. Then talk radio gets ahold of it. Then it’s a meme on social media. Then, by the end of the day, it’s something that makes it way to kitchen table and barroom arguments. It can happen that fast.
This is no accident. In fact, it’s all crafted. Just a few years ago, I was a guest on a TV talk show preparing in the studio, off camera, to be in the second segment when a guest in the first segment, a partisan “surrogate” accidentally said the quiet part out loud, live. Before blurting out one of her bullets, she declared “In the talking points they went through with us on the conference call today, they told us…” Yep.
Even in sports, where the motivation is viewer and listener loyalty rather than any other agenda, this is also evident. Pay attention the next time you’re at a game to the fans sitting around you. Chances are it won’t take long to hear someone parroting the two or three talking points repeated over and over again by the top-rated talk show hosts about a team or a player.
This is how so much opinion-based media is packaged, consumed and, consequently, regurgitated. It’s the inevitable outcome of shorter attention spans and social media algorithms. So what is a media consumer to do? It’s hard when all of us feel overwhelmed by information and seemingly want “our side” to “win” so badly.
Maybe a little dose of skepticism would go a long way. Keep in mind that these talking points are not necessarily grounded in facts. They are created, often hastily, to gain and maintain attention. It’s what many of us learned to do in PR decades ago, but run completely amok. You have no obligation to adopt them.