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.