Profitable Discourse: NBC’s “Education Nation”

There have been quite a few ads for this new segment/series on NBC stations. While conversation about the state of education is great, what struck me was that this feels like a corporation seizing upon a sexy topic–one of concern for many citizens–and capitalizing on it. After all, news conglomerates are businesses. For-profit businesses. To get advertisers to buy space, they have to ensure that people will consume the news they disseminate. Hey, people seem to be worried about education–let’s create a series, website, and blog that speaks to those concerns.  That’ll get them to watch! And how handy: a catchy, rhyming title. They’ll associate our name, our logo, our news brand, with what matters to them! 

Discourse (much of which has been created or at least fueled by the mass-media, let’s not forget) is yet another opportunity to build the brand. By associating NBC with what is perceived to be a social good–public education–capitalism wins again. These ongoing, mediated conversations promise to “make a difference” to viewers and participators…and to the corporation’s pocketbook. It’s profit masquerading as a practical response to national discourse and those topics that are latched onto in waves of hand-wringing and fist-clenching. Capitalism in the trappings of populism.

To piggy-back on the idea of public discourse, the fact that national news corporations now deal with broad topics of concern is symptomatic of how our society interacts. We think of ourselves as a nation. Locality is still there, but we pay overwhelming attention to things that are perceived to concern our state, our country as a whole. The village we belong to has grown. Our community has become televised, and our neighborhood is now online. These are gross over-generalizations, of course, and it would be worth exploring whether or not this move to exponentially larger circles of community and the ways in which they are mediated is mirrored by a refocusing on ever-smaller local identities, such as towns and neighborhoods. As we strengthen our national identity, do we simultaneously cling to the micro-concerns of our local identity?

Either way, news corporations have us covered. Oh boy, are we covered. They know what we care about, what will make us watch, and they know how to get us to care about things, as well. Perhaps this move shouldn’t be derided too much, as it probably will lead to productive conversations about how to improve the educational system, whether those conversations lead to actual positive changes or not. It’ll be interesting to monitor this series and its partner website to see what NBC decides to focus on. And it’s always worth looking critically at things from different perspectives, especially if they seem oddly benevolent.

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4 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Media

4 responses to “Profitable Discourse: NBC’s “Education Nation”

  1. Robin Reed

    So, do we wish that this benevolence via commercialism pays off, or should we not pay attention to this new series? I personally feel we should take whatever opportunities there are to make a change for the better. The problem is, will the subsequent discourse actually develop into change for the better? I am not sure that I would pursue this avenue, but it may get many more members of our society to sit up and pay attention to the needs of educational advancement.

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    • Good points, all. I’m just afraid that this will be just like most other in vogue topics, and disappear when the next sexy matter-of-concern is latched upon, without anything productive having been done. (will one of you grammar-nazis out there please take pity on that poor sentence and fix it? kthx)

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  2. Education is an important topic (people have said it’s the civil rights issue of our era) so on the one hand I think it’s a good thing that NBC is giving the issue air time, despite any ulterior motives they may have. But you are right, the bottom line is that they are a business and they want to make money. I think the ultimate judgment should be made, though, on the quality of their coverage and the content–is it going to be a serious discussion of the state of education in our country? Or just a superficial, gimmicky news segment? It will be interesting to see.

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    • We should definitely judge on the content, and on what people take up from there. I don’t get the sense that it will be superficial (at least not totally) but gimmicks pay out, so I’ve no doubt we’ll see those in the form of online polls and little articles about the merits (and demerits) of having toys in school lunches or whatnot.

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