Visual Abuse

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail published an eight page supplement that does more harm than good to the perception of education in this country.

Over 330,000 people subscribe to Canada’s national newspaper of record and it claims a readership of approximately two million. Three times this year, the paper has published a "special interest supplement" it calls the Guide to Education, the most recent of which ran in the Mon., Nov. 5 issue. Several problems plague such a supplement aside from any awareness it is fortunate enough to generate.

At a cursory glance, the supplement looks almost like any other section in the Globe and Mail–it employs the same layout style and text font, but it has no bylines to tell you who wrote the stories and uses modified headline and kicker fonts. Reading at length demonstrates sources of the information in the "news articles" are poor, hard-working students. It is only later in the article we discover these impoverished students are actually student politicians, a poor journalistic methodology to say the least.

For those who work with design on a regular basis, certain layout styles are always
followed in order to give different sections recognition and brand value. Bylines tell you if the author was commissioned by the paper to create the article. Readers should
instantly know they’re in an arts and entertainment section or news section without thinking too hard, and sources used in the articles should be clearly identified. Design accomplishes certain goals, deemphasizes others and communicates visually without using words. Sources should add validity and depth to a story and allow several sides of a issue to be represented.

The problem with the Globe’s supplement is that it looks and reads a too much like the rest of the paper. What is essentially an advertisement is sold as reality to both the everyday and the more critical reader.

In the case of the critical reader wary of advertising, the supplement pushes the idea that education is a special interest, that it is one of those "lobbies" that claws tax dollars away and serves little value in today’s society. If one either reads the un-bylined stories or glances over the advertising in the supplement, it becomes apparent that the coverage is rather lopsided towards supporting the post- secondary position, and that the supplement is just a vehicle for universities to promote themselves.

Yes, such coverage is favourable in one sense–but only to the uncritical reader who flips through the supplement and nods contentedly that education is worthy and useful. Great.

Nonetheless, critical readers get a dose of university "rah rah rah," which is entirely more disheartening than pleasing. It is sad when universities are forced to lobby their cause to Canadians through a "special interest" supplement. Apparently, education is not a resource or an investment leading to a greater society. It is a product; purchased, consumed and disposed of by masses of students.

The Gauntlet isn’t free from these issues either, but that isn’t what we’re trying to point out here. For example, there is no byline for this piece. In truth, editorials run this way to demonstrate the position agreed on by the editorial staff.

However, the issue at hand is the Globe’s supplement, what it means and whether this really benefits universities like our own. After assessing the design, stories and meaning of such a supplement, it is apparent that education occupies a lonely place, languishing with all the other special interests groups of Canadian society.

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