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Grand Rapids Press endorses more than just political candidates

July 19, 2010

For the past month or so the Grand Rapids Press has been endorsing political candidates for County Commissioner all the way up to Governor. These are obvious endorsements, but it would be more accurate to say that news media endorses all kinds of economic and social realities on a daily basis, in part because of their own internal biases.

One other factor that determines what news organizations endorse is the fact that they sell advertising space or time. This may be painfully obvious to people, but it is worth repeating lest we forget what drives commercial news agencies – the profit motive.

However, beyond the obvious internal bias associated with commercial advertising in news media there is another kind of endorsement that in some ways is even more insidious than the apparent commercial intent of ads. More and more we see news stories that are fundamentally product endorsements. We know that PR firms often create news copy and distribute stories about products that are nothing more than veiled ads in what are called Video News Releases (VNRs), but increasingly reporters engage in the same behavior.

A great example of advertising in the form of journalism was the front-page story of the Business section of Sunday’s GR Press (7/18). Headlined in the print version of the article as “It’s the Real Thing,” the nearly 2-page story was framed to look as a consumer interest story about whether people prefer US-produced Coke (made with fructose corn syrup) or Mexican produced Coke (make with cane sugar).

The story not only is a promotional piece for Coca Cola, but for numerous local grocery stores, since the article tells readers about the numerous locations that one can buy the Mexican produced Coke from, including hyper-links to the stores.

The only journalistic component in the story was a passing comment about public concerns related to high fructose corn syrup and negative health effects, but this comment is lost amidst all the “happy” text attributed to being able to purchase Mexican-produced Coke in the area.

But maybe all is not lost. This article could be the beginning of a series of stories that the Press is planning on the soft drink giant in the coming weeks. We might see an article about Coca Cola’s theft of public water resources globally, followed by the company’s role in the murder of union organizers in Colombia.

However, the likely outcome is that the Press is not even thinking along those lines, because that kind of journalism doesn’t create what media critic Neil Postman calls “a positive consumer environment” for the public. It could be worse though. The Press could write a story about appropriate office attire with tips from local managers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    July 20, 2010 3:50 am

    You are dead on about the Coke article: another shameless Press ad disguised as a news story. And for a product that started out by being literally addictive–the stuff had cocaine in it until the late 1920s–and now is tainted by the company’s horrific tactics in countries around the world.

    As for the article about dress codes, it struck me as being drenched in sexism. Notice how much of it is directed at women–skirt lengths, sleeveless tops, sheer clothing that shows bras or camisoles. And that opening picture, of three women perched in an office listening breathlessly to the man who is clearly in the authority position, sitting at a desk with his back to the camera, is ridiculous–it looks like something from Madison Avenue in the 1950s. Interesting that it was taken at Hanon-McKendry, an agency that has done work for Right to Life, Focus on the Family, and the Alliance Defense Fund, among others.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    July 20, 2010 10:52 am

    Thanks as always for your comments Kate. I particularly appreciate your comments about the office attire piece.

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