Is it time to update the format of the State of the Union address?

President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union speech on Tuesday, continuing an annual tradition that began in 1934 with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Since 1934, the manner in which information is delivered and obtained has changed significantly. Is a speech still the most effective way for a president to update Congress and the American people?

Here are three opinions from students in a Media and Democracy course at St. Bonaventure University.

Madison Killion:

Speeches are an effective way for presidents to update Congress and the American people. Speeches such as the State of the Union have been a tradition in American politics and among people in power. They are direct and get the point across so that those watching have a general understanding of ideas a person has, or in the President’s case, a general idea of what they plan to bring to discuss with Congress.  

Although these speeches may be an effective way to present issues in America and solutions for those issues for both Congress and America, how many people actually watch and listen to these speeches?  

Personally, I have never sat down and watched an entire State of the Union speech, and I can say the same for most of my family, as they can be somewhat dull and uninteresting for those who are not involved heavily in politics.  

The number of viewers has greatly declined since 1993 where 66.9 million people watched compared to 2021 where there were 26.9 viewers, nearly a third of what it was in 1993.  

A more effective way to bring information to Congress and America would be to provide a simple yet informative list of what the president plans to accomplish. For example, Americans would be more inclined to read about big changes in an article or a document than to sit and watch the president speak about issues for what could be an hour-long speech.  

So, although speeches are tradition and easy to present to the public, they may not be the most effective way to present information

Rushabh Patel:

Is a speech is the most effective way for a president to update Congress and the American people? With today’s technology, the president’s most effective way of addressing updates still is via a speech.

Communication is key when it comes to important events. The only way of communicating to millions of people in an effective manner is by verbally speaking to the audience. Alternatives such as writing a letter to make it an official document is a great way of preserving it the information. However, it’s difficult to understand the emotions and urgency that could be highlighted by giving a speech. When reading, the emotion/tone is based off of interpretation from what is being read. Whereas if the president, the one giving the speech, speaks it, the intended emotions, tone and emphasis are brought out.

Additionally, with the way society runs, portions of the written document could be misinterpreted and manipulated to corrupt the minds of others to make them think the opposite of the original intent. Fake replicas of the document could also be made. This could also be done for videos after they are published. Yet, it if the speech is livestreamed, most people watching it live would know what was said during the whole speech and there would be a legitimate copy of the speech being delivered on the internet.

Another reason why we should continue with giving speeches is because they keep the tradition alive. If the State of Union speech has been given for almost a century, why ruin it? So far, there hasn’t been an issue with giving the State of Union in this manner.

Having the president give a speech is the best form of communication because it could be recorded to be broadcasted and preserved for future generations. Furthermore, the president could express certain points more effectively. For example, in a paragraph if the president wants to drive home a sentence and make it stand out, he could say it slowly and loudly. Overall, there are more ways to emphasize key material when giving a speech to an audience.

Prajna Vootukuri:

Although delivering a speech is the established form of conveying information, it is not the most effective way for a president to update Congress and the American people during this age. A better way to convey the information would be sending a document with bullet points summarizing the main points regarding the country that would have been conveyed in the speech, directly to Congress and the media.

The media is a vast web of interconnectedness that spreads news across a wide range of areas faster than any other form of direct communication, as we have witnessed during the past few years with COVID-19 news. People heavily depend on technology, and with social media implementing rapid forms of entertainment as well as busy lifestyles, the public prefers faster forms of obtaining information. A more effective and efficient method of conveying the message would be using bullet points.

Although the bullet points are more efficient, it is not to say that speeches are useless. Orations have served well throughout our history. The benefits of verbal communication are that information can be given with more detail and articulation since people expect speeches to be relatively long and thorough. An oration is also straight from the source, as you visualize or hear directly from the individual giving it.

Speeches do have benefits, but handing out a bullet point list is more efficient. We live in a time of change favoring efficiency, and if the president sends out the shortened version of the speech with the main facts, it gives the media less room for possible misinterpretations.

While listening to the speech, with the added details, people might lose track of understanding the main points. Although the White House press staff does distribute copies of the full speech to the media, individuals can miss points or focus on the wrong parts of the paper while parsing through many pages. Due to this, when the media tries to communicate the speech concisely, there is ample room for variations or self-perspectives to play a role in how the message is portrayed. Some traditions, although respected, can be changed to fit the best form of spreading news in this time of broad technological innovations.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Media, Politics

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