Column: Proud of GMA

Published on July 8, 2008

In making my case against the GMA network’s blurring of the line between journalism and marketing, I forgot to make one line of argument explicit: There is a difference between identification (“Ang inyong Kapuso”) and advertising (“Proud to be Kapuso”). The first is necessary, like a byline in a newspaper story; the second is an option best unchosen.

I wince whenever I hear the anchors and reporters of the GMA TV and radio network sign off each broadcast or report with the company’s new tagline, “Proud to be Kapuso.” I do not doubt their sincerity; indeed, given the high quality of the work they do, they have much to be proud of. I only question the decision of network management to use the journalists in their employ to blur the line between journalism and marketing.

Do not misunderstand me; I have nothing against newspersons helping out their news organizations in non-news functions. High-profile TV presenters do a lot of good when they engage in charity work, even if the charity happens to belong to their company. Of the many tasks that burden philanthropic organizations, two require the help of the well-known and the well-connected: raising awareness of the given issue, and raising funds for the advocacy. That’s where the Mel Tiangcos and Tina Monzon-Palmas come in. (To be sure, other humanitarian organizations, without similar access to celebrities, sometimes wilt under the pressure of competing for increasingly smaller slices of the charity pie with the likes of GMA’s Kapuso foundation and ABS-CBN’s Bantay Bata foundation.)

Newspaper editors and TV producers who conduct journalism workshops or appear in forums are also in the do-good business, even if they would be the last to characterize this part of their work as charity. Two reasons. First, news organizations today are required not only to report the news, but also to explain it and the process that defines it. An audience of better-informed readers and viewers, listeners and users, demand nothing less. (To be sure, many people do not necessarily think of their media needs in this exact way; but in my experience, explaining the process always results, to use a phrase that will set my colleagues’ teeth on edge, in greater customer satisfaction. It meets an often unarticulated but always felt need.) Second, members of the so-called mainstream media are obliged to bring more readers and viewers and listeners and users to the mainstream or (not necessarily the same thing) to bring mass media closer to the audience.

Strictly speaking, these tasks do not constitute journalism, and yet today’s journalists must be ready and able to carry them out.

* * *

I do not wish to hide this kind of non-news work under the protective mantle of corporate social responsibility or good corporate citizenship; some of it, to be completely candid, is plain and simple marketing. When journalists participate in in-house advertising programs, such as TV ads talking up the credentials of reporters or print ads highlighting the awards investigative teams have earned, they are taking part in the business of building a business. When working journalists grace the exhibits or seminars their news organizations sponsor or even sometimes organize, they are helping retain or widen their organization’s market. (Of course, I am using the word “grace” in its limited sense of appearing, rather like a ghost or a priest.) When senior journalists are invited to address a prestigious conference, the prestige may be incidental to the decision to accept, but it does have its uses in marketing.

Are these examples undermined by a conflict of interest. I do not think so. If a news organization’s own personnel do not believe in it, who will?

I suppose the formula I am working toward can be phrased in this manner: For a news organization, the work of its news staff is its best advertisement.

* * *

This is where I think GMA’s use of the new tagline crosses the line.

The marketing journalists are sometimes asked to do is incidental; it is not what they are hired for. The marketing that I think the GMA network now requires of its journalists–some of them the very best in our industry–is structural, part of the work they were hired for.

In my view, the tagline transforms each GMA journalist into a pitchman, and every report, every broadcast, into an opportunity to pitch.

* * *

As always, the feedback I get whenever I write about Manny Pacquiao fills my inbox. Many of those who wrote about “Pacman’s English” will find confirmation in their view, and mine, that sense takes precedence over pronunciation [and grammar], in Rafael Nadal’s explication of his dramatic Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer.

At one point, Nadal agreed with Federer that the long day’s fading light had turned their epic five-set match into another game altogether. “In the last game, I didn’t see nothing,” he said. “Was unbelievable. I thought we have to stop.”

I count two grammatical mistakes, three if we condemn sentence fragments even in spoken English. But does anyone care? He made his point; he was gracious to the champion he had just dethroned, but precise about the conditions of play, the chaos of emotions, he had to navigate. Game, set and match.

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1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media

One response to “Column: Proud of GMA

  1. John, Thanks for this perspective. What I would like to see is more of this — critical commentary in mainstream media about itself, the way it is done in the US or Europe. MSM has become so powerful, especially television, that it cries out for constructive criticism. It’s one vital way to keep its feet on the ground and improve so it serves the public better.

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