Where is The Line Between Good Advice and Crass Marketing?

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Advise and photo from The Guardian

New Orleans    Recently, I read that the well-known progressive newspaper based in the United Kingdom, The Guardian, has established a special section on its website called “protest.” Wow, I thought, now we’re talking! And, truth to tell, I’ve started making it a point to regularly check it out every couple of days. I’m not saying this new feature is going to end up on everyone’s weekly “to do” list, but what can I say…it’s on mine.

If I remember correctly I had gotten the heads-up from some columnist who saw this Guardian feature as a “sign of the times” kind of thing indicating that protests were becoming constant and ubiquitous. Oh, how I wish! A regular reading indicates the opposite. Sometimes it’s pretty thin gruel as The Guardian tries to keep hope alive in this section to tell the truth.

And, sometimes it’s just plain troubling.

I read a piece by Tess Riley identified as a Guardian journalist and a former student campaigner entitled Three Steps to Building a Successful Student Campaign. Not surprisingly the section on communication given her career choice was stronger than some of the other “steps.” For the most part it was all pretty standard, cookbook style recommendations: wear comfortable shoes to a march, use “strong visuals” in protests, and the like. Community organizing made her list, but was obviously a bit outside her experience and just sort of taken off the shelf as she wrote:

This grassroots approach seeks to find out what people want or need by listening to their stories. By finding common themes, organisers can mobilise neighbours through shared concerns to bring about change.

Obviously this is not my cup of tea since it continues to propagandize a spin on the work that is somehow separate from building an organization, seeing people simply as a base to be mobilized, and trying to dilute the power of issues and anger in some milquetoast whitewash called “their stories.” But, that’s just me.

More disturbing was finding by the end of Riley’s piece the real point seemed less about The Guardian giving students a shot at making change, but more about The Guardian doing self-promotion of something they were calling Guardian Students, which seems like a scam to sell students on the need to read The Guardian. Fair enough, they have to pay their bills too, but equating social change and sales felt sketchy to me. It made me question whether or not the “protest” section was really about the news and getting the word out about important actions people are taking than just pandering to eyeballs like mine to drive traffic to their website and the ads running along the side of articles. Was I a supporter or a sucker?

I should have known. I had read a book several months ago that warned me, and any others that might care, about the role of the Gates Foundation is playing in slanting the spin on development through their sponsorship of the Global Development section of The Guardian.

We need the news and regular and reliable news on things like protest, poverty, and development is hard to find, but where is the line drawn between good advice and crass marketing, their drive to survive at any cost, and our interest in fair and objective information. Where is the section that will explain to us whether we are players or being played?

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