The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 37

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
JULY-AUGUST 2014
37
As writers, we spend
inordinate amounts of time
crafting the perfect summary
paragraph because we know
that is all that is likely to be
read, if it is read at all.
—Travis Coberly
as we would like to read the latest cable on mud exports from
Southern Elbonia, there are only so many hours in the day. As
writers, we spend inordinate amounts of time crafting the perfect
summary paragraph because we know that is all that is likely to
be read, if it is read at all. Where is the logical endpoint?
Even more disconcerting: with the ease of digital communi-
cations and access to open sources and social media, will report-
ing officers be tweeted out of a job? If the beast can be happily
fed on 140 characters at a time, why are we spending millions of
dollars to station officers overseas when their reporting won’t be
read?
Is there a magic formula for producing useful, quality mate-
rial without being a burden on an already overloaded audience?
Can we, as reporting officers, successfully communicate our
product without resorting to top-10 lists with pictures of cats?
As a concept, information overload has been around for a
long time. Unfortunately for those of us in the Foreign Service,
our capability of dealing with information is lagging far behind
our ability to produce it. And things will only get worse.
We need to find technological and organizational solutions to
the issue other than creating a classified Twitter system. We need
to train entry-level officers to focus on quality over quantity, and
senior-level officers to have the self-discipline to delegate and,
yes, put down that BlackBerry once in a while. All of us need to
change the ways we process and use information—beyond ask-
ing for shorter cables.
I would go on, but it appears I have already reached my word
limit.
n
Travis Coberly, an economic-cone officer, joined the Foreign Service in
2009. He has previously served in Merida and Hyderabad.
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