Inside a portable in Toronto’s Leaside High School, Bill Velos, a short, dark-haired entrepreneurship teachers from his desk, picks up a piece of chalk and writes BANKRUPTCY on the board. Hearing idle students chattering behind him, he turns around to survey his class. The students are dressed in worn baseball caps and torn blue jeans and sit inattentively in makeshift rows. At Velos’ request, they settle down to read an article on bankruptcy in The Globe and Mail Classroom Edition. The Globe has produced the tabloid to serve as a supplementary monthly textbook for economics, business and politics courses in high schools, colleges and universities.
Velos uses the edition at least once each month. It contains tightened, updated business and economics articles from the Globe’s Report on Business section, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Alongside the articles in the 24-page tabloid are high-energy illustrations, graphs, charts, information tables and “what you should know” boxes designed to add context to complicated stories. On the cover of the inaugural edition last September was a full-colour illustration depicting four men-shaven-headed, musclebound behemoths-bracing their feet and yanking in various directions on hawsers anchored to a glowing, red maple leaf. The story was about the economic and political forces shaping the nation.
After the students read the article on bankruptcy, Velos reorganizes them into groups of three and gives each group a question to discuss, taken from the teacher’s guide that accompanies each class set of Globes. Produced by the nonpartisan Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, the guide contains discussion questions designed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills. It legitimizes the edition as a teaching tool. One group at the back of the class discusses the merits of the classroom edition. “The regular Globe and Mail is boring, not very enlightening,” says one student. He then points to the classroom edition and says that it’s more like the tabloid 1Oronto Sun. Another student sums up the Sun’s appeal: “It’s more colourful, more general in its reporting and has no 35-letter words like the Globe.” He adds that the regular Globe “looks depressing.” The third student in the group defends the cu classroom edition as a good combination of the Sun and the Globe because it contains “choice articles,” like a magazine.
Beyond the articles, Velos’ entrepreneurship students are absorbing the corporate presence that permeates the paper. Full-page ads by Midland Walwyn Inc., Xerox Canada Ltd., Apple Canada Inc., the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and General Motors of Canada Ltd.-the classroom Globe’s financial sponsors-are scattered throughout the edition.
The ads raise questions about the influence that corporate advertisements, quite apart from the editorial biases of a corporate-owned newspaper, may have on students. When used in the classroom, the edition becomes compulsory reading-students are, in effect, a captive audience.
The Globe is the first paper in Canada to produce a newspaper solely for the classroom. Michael Valpy, a columnist who used to sit on the Globe’s editorial board, says that the paper has always attracted younger readers as they passed through university or entered the paper’s highly educated demographic zone. Yet a 1991 readership study found that only 11 per cent of senior high school and university-aged students read the Globe, a decrease from 1988, when 14 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds polled read it. Now the paper’s philosophy has changed. ‘~l our research is telling us we are not attracting younger readers,” says Valpy. “We’re certainly hoping that the classroom edition will plant the idea that the newspaper is essential. After students use it as a research tool, they will realize its value and become regular readers.”
The Globe’s classroom edition imitates the The Wall Street Journal s. The Journal distributes its edition to business, economics and social-studies teachers in U.S. high schools. It was launched in September, 1991, exactly one year before the Globe’s, and costs $150 (U.S.) annually for nine issues of 30 copies throughout the school year more than eight times the $20 (Cdn.) the Globe charges for the same number of issues. This is one reason the Globe’s edition reaches nearly 100,000 students each month, while the Journals reaches only 60,000. Both publish from September to May. “Ours is pitched towards a higher level than theirs,” says Globe classroom edition editor Stephen Petherbridge. “We’re a tougher read and our graphics are much more sophisticated.” With a five-year stint teaching journalism at Ryerson Poly technical Institute, and a three-year period as executive editor of The Financial Post behind him, Petherbridge would appear to be well suited to select articles for the edition based on instructional as well as news value. “Teaching taught me to analyze stories. I don’t think that most journalists ever do that; they do it by instinct.”
Following its natural tendency to sell conventional advertising, the Journal made one mistake the Globe avoided: it allowed advertisers to pitch products directly at high school students. A small number of teachers have boycotted the Journals classroom edition for that reason. “It’s not like students are reading this because they want to,” says Petherbridge. “When you have a captive audience, you have to be careful what messages you’re shoving down their throats.”
Petherbridge and the Globe were more careful about how they financed their edition. “It’s not something we can sell conventional advertising in because lots of schools and school boards object if you have product advertising. You can’t sell Big Macs or that kind of consumer product directly. We decided that the best way to finance it would be through business sponsorship.”
Peter Desbarats, dean of the University of Western Ontario’s graduate journalism school, says that teachers like Velos wouldn’t use the edition if it contained product ads that pitched cars or mutual funds at students. Desbarats believes that by limiting the sponsors to promoting only their corporate image in the ads, the edition squeaks by ethically “on the thin edge of the line,” because parents, teachers and students may not object.
The five corporate sponsors-GM, CIBC, Midland Walwyn, Apple and Xerox-each paid $125,000 for one full-page ad in each of the nine issues, with the stipulation that no product or service ads are allowed, only “corporate imaging ads.” These ads aim positive images at students; they emphasize amiable qualities, such as a company’s commitment to education, the environment or product quality.
Sociology professor Augie Fleras, who teaches mass communications at the University of Waterloo, says that corporate imaging ads are often more “insidious” than product ads because they contain more subliminal messages -messages that readers may not consciously perceive. When students see an enlarged blue chip in place of the “O” in the word “educatiOn,” they associate Midland Walwyn with “blue chip thinking.” The images and the corporate association are then firmly related in the students’ minds -especially when the ad is repeated nine times over the course of the school year.
Advertising that targets students should not be allowed in classrooms at all, says Barrie Zwicker, media critic and former Globe education reporter. He compares the classroom edition to the Youth News Network, which plans to televise 12-minute daily newscasts, including two-and-a-half minutes of commercials, into Canadian classrooms. Following the lead of Channel One, which broadcasts to about 10,000 American schools, YNN has enticed several school boards in six provinces to show its newscast by offering television sets, VCRs and satellite dishes to schools. Zwicker says both the classroom edition and YNN’s newscasts “introduce advertising in the heart of textual material to a captive audience.” It angers him that his former employer is financing its classroom edition with corporate advertising: “The Globe is insinuating the corporate ethos right into the heart of the classroom. There must be a place left untainted from corporations. The Globe is selling students to sponsors.”
For the edition, CIBC launched a four-ad campaign focusing on potentially unpleasant summer jobs students may have had. In her office at Harrod & Mirlin, Sallah Cayer, the ad firm’s account manager, says that the Globe promised, and delivered, 90,000 students to the advertisers. She says that the 17- to 22-year-olds the edition is intended to reach comprise “a unique target group, because their attitudes towards banks aren’t yet formed, or aren’t very positive.”
Cayer spreads proofs of the four ads one by one over the top of her desk. In the foreground of the ad that ran in the September issue, a young man leans over a mower, exhausted after cutting an enormous, well-kept field of grass. The youth stares down the tree-lined lawn directly at a palatial mansion in the background-the obvious focal point of the ad-perhaps hoping to own one. The caption says: “One day, your job will take you to greener pastures. And you won’t have to cut them. We want you to get there.” The ad subtly implies that one day, the student may own a mansion and take a mortgage or invest his savings with CIBC. The three other ads on the desk feature: a male rickshaw driver who might one day “have power. ..not provide it;” a female dog handler trying to rein in eight dogs on separate leashes; and a female construction worker standing in the rain holding a traffic sign that reads “SLOW” Some day she hopes to be in “good standing” financially, perhaps wi th the help of services offered by CIBC.
Each of the bank’s four ads arguably contains a subtle, subliminal influence to help students connect the wish-fulfillment message with CIBC. The students in the ads were photographed in black and white. But the ads’ creators added a “tinge of red” to the photo, representing “a slight overtone of the bank’s colour,” says Cayer. The reddish overtone is easily distinguished when pointed out, but just as easily unnoticed when the ad is read. Cayer says that the red was added “more for style than anything else-just to look a little different.” She denies any implication that this had subliminal intent. In a small room around the corner from Cayer’s office, Brent Peterson, the ad’s copywriter, examines the lawnmower man proof. He says the campaign taps into students’ ambitions or dreams- “not necessarily material ambitions,” but their desire to have a job more satisfying than mowing lawns. Peterson outlines the student’s thought process when reading the ads: “‘CIBC is empathizing with the person in the ad. Therefore, they are empathizing with me.’ It’s image advertising. We’re selling the image of CIBC as a bank that cares and hopes to help. A refreshing message from a bank that is usually selling interest rates and GICs.”
A part from these ads, the classroom edition’s very existence promotes the Globe’s image as a paper that not only cares about education, but also actively seeks to improve it. The edition’s aim is to attract student readers to the good grey Globe. Consequently, it is unlikely the edition will contain articles critical of the multi-million dollar newspaper industry, argues Barry Duncan, president of the Association For Media Literacy, an organization of mostly high school media teachers who take a critical, detached look at the media. Duncan reasons that the Globe, which is owned by the multinational media firm Thomson Newspapers Company Ltd., would be betraying its own interests if the edition and its teacher’s guides included stories about media concentration and ownership.
Noted for its Report on Business section and its demographics-the typical Globe reader is a 39-year-old professional, managerial, upper class white male, the epitome of the status quo-the paper takes the business angles of stories, analyzing corporate concerns more often than more liberal papers like The 1Oronto Star. Its contents, and the contents of the classroom edition, reflect the bias inherent in business newspapers.
“That’s ridiculous,” Petherbridge says to the notion that the Globe is exclusively pro-business. “In any large, responsible newspaper, and the Globe’s newsroom is a very good example, the gamut of opinions runs from far left to far right. You’re not going to get a consistent, homogenized view of anything. You’re going to get different approaches and different philosophies of different reporters. And when you put that all into the mix, what you end up with is a fair, responsible piece of journalism.”
Much of the journalism in the Globe may be fair and responsible, but Peter Desbarats argues that it definitely leans in favour of business. “Every newspaper in this country has a pro-business bias and supports the status quo,” he says. “There are small degrees of difference. The Globe and Mail really has a split personality. In a sense, it’s one-half newspaper and one-half business paper. It’s strongly pro-business.”
The classroom edition does, on occasion, print articles critical of business. Last September, it published a story about debt-ridden Olympia and York’s five-year proposed restructuring plan, and dealt with the criticisms bank executives had regarding the plan. But would the classroom edition print a story critical of a sponsor? Yes, says Petherbridge, if the story is instructional for students. In the January issue, he printed a quarter-page story with the headline, “Downsizing hits employees in the financial sector.” The article explained that the recession has hit banks and trust companies, and discussed how the CIBC’s rapid expansion and hiring in the eighties led to its 2,500 employee cuts last December. The article prompted Laurie Ellis, ad manager for CIBC to phone Petherbridge. “I called him to say we saw it. I gave him a little nudge, but not to say, ‘Don’t publish it.'”
There are cases where advertisers have more than “nudged” newspapers into submission, as Petherbridge himself is aware. He was dismissed as executive editor of The Financial Post because he printed a story critical of Canadian Aitlines, a major advertiser. Canadian Aitlines withdrew its advertising, and the financially troubled daily fired Petherbridge. Ellis hopes that the classroom edition would not print a story too critical of her bank: “I’d like to think the Globe would be wise enough never to blatantly offend a sponsor, but I’m very much in favour of them maintaining their integrity and in publishing the story, if ., ”
Back in the portable at Leaside High School, the entrepreneurship students bend down beside their desks and start packing up their knapsacks, preparing to leave. Velos asks them a final question: “How do you feel about the classroom edition having advertising?”
“They’re not beer commercials,” one student says. “They’re unique.” “The ads are selling the business fact,” says another, “not the product.” One business fact is that the classroom edition is an advertisement promoting the Globe as a legitimate research and learning tool. Another business fact worth noting is the exclusivity of the corporate sponsors within the edition. The sponsors signed deals forbidding any of their direct corporate competitors access to the edition. No document company other than Xerox, or computer firm other than Apple, would be allowed entrance.
The GM ads are perhaps the most intriguing. They focus on the safety aspect of GM vehicles such as tire traction control, “head-up display” dashboards, and ABS VI-anti-lock brakes. The message is that GM invented these devices “to better help drivers avoid accidents.” In the library at Leaside, a student sits at a desk, flipping through the November issue.
“I think ads should be in a textbook,” she comments. She examines the GM ad and makes out a shadow of a body descending a blue waterslide. “These are good ads. They open up the target market. They understand that students will have money later in life.” She reads the handwritten copy at the bottom of the ad, and says, “I don’t know what ABS is, but I would like to have it in my car.”
That, too, is a business fact.