A former student of mine did an internship with a local newspaper this past May. It was then that I learned the dirty truth about the local “news”papers: they don’t actually go in search of news. They wait for news to come to them. Of course that’s not entirely true, because they do need to follow news related to the government, and of course there must be someone in charge of murders and accidents (with how many there are each day, there must be several people dedicated to those two items). But, by and large, the majority of the pages in the periodicals that are not advertisements actually are just that: advertisements. Companies pay the newspaper to write an article about them, making it appear like news, when it’s really just a glorified advert. Some are better than others (“better” according to my standards of course). For example, a company that sells light bulbs might have a little press conference, which the newspapers will cover as if it’s a big news story, when it’s just announcing a new energy-efficient light bulb. And there will be a full-page spread in the newspaper that appears to be a normal news article. However, this company actually paid the newspaper to come to the “press conference” and told them what to write. In fact, there may not have even been a press conference, and the photos were pulled from the files. But energy-efficient light bulbs are good.
Less good? In last week’s El Diario de Hoy, there was a short “article” about McDonald’s. Titled, “Revel in the Taste of Big Mac Mania in McDonald’s,” the story (with no specific author, I noted) goes on to describe the three sizes of Big Macs now available and how well it pairs with a McFlurry, particularly the Chips Ahoy flavor. The “article” also suggests you start your day off on a nutritious note by indulging in a Sausage McMuffin with egg and cheese (450 calories, more than half the calories from fat, 27 grams of fat – 42% of your daily requirement right there, and 10 grams saturated fat). There is even a quote by the regional general manager of McDonald’s and a line or two about the history of the Big Mac (1967, Pittsburg), and then the “article” closes by shamelessly instructing you to find El Salvador McDonald’s on Facebook and to get yourself to the nearest restaurant to savor the Big Mac of your choice.
It is appalling that this was published as a news item, but it highlights a few things. One, I would imagine the newspaper does things like this because they need money. What newspaper doesn’t? And companies are attracted to this kind of advertising because it’s more subtle. Many people (including yours truly) skip right over the fancy, colorful obvious advertisements in search of the actual news stories. So this is a ploy to get the more savvy readers to swallow the consumerist garbage they’re constantly doling out. Well, they tried, but I choked and spit it back out! You gotta stay on your toes around here, I tell ya.