Spreading the news

When I was a teenager I somehow got on to a mailing list of the government of the then German Democratic Republic (East Germany). I never quite worked out how I managed this, but what I got were regular magazines claiming to disseminate ‘news’ from the GDR. The news items were all very similar: they told of new achievements by East German scientists and sportspeople; of new economic triumphs which made the GDR the most prosperous and happy country on earth; of the sheer genius of their top politicians and the obvious rightness of all their policies; of the amazing successes of the Soviet Union and its allies; of the evil intentions of top capitalists in West Germany and elsewhere. And more stuff where that came from. Of course it was all just propaganda and spin, and these magazines never touched on complex political debates or ethical questions.

I confess I sometimes get a very similar feelings when I read the ‘news’ sections of university websites the world over. It’s all about the latest triumphs and successes, and the superiority of that particular university’s strategies and policies. There is never anything to tax the brain or to stimulate discussion. Of course universities are as entitled as anyone to seek to disseminate their good news stories; however, my suspicion is that these stories don’t serve any tangible purpose. I doubt that they attract enthusiastic readers, and I imagine that those who do read them apply an immediate discount for propaganda and spin.

Most universities have professional and effective media relations staff, and they generally know how to get stories into the public domain. Should they be spending less time reporting on the latest triumphs in implementing the Five Year Plan ahead of schedule, and focus more – or at least focus in addition – on topics and issues that are controversial and on which the university or some of its key staff have something important to say? If they did that, I suspect that the the news pages as a whole would attract more attention.

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2 Comments on “Spreading the news”

  1. Al Says:

    No posters on this one!
    The power of the the pr department!

  2. wendymr Says:

    You know you were probably on some CIA list of dangerous individuals back then, don’t you?

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