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Annals of corporate co-opting: Another ‘independent’ news site is born

Partners
These companies are among the backers of the “independent” news site Collectively. Should you trust them?
(Collectively.org)

The ingenuity of big corporations knows no bounds, especially when it comes to disguising self-interested PR as objective information. Say hello to the latest such effort, a website devoted to communicating information about “sustainable” -- that is, environmentally friendly -- activities called Collectively.org.

Collectively isn’t exclusively a news site. It describes itself as an independent “platform” aimed at “helping to establish sustainable lifestyles as the new normal.” But it’s backed by a raft of corporate “partners” including Coca-Cola, Nike, Unilever, McDonald’s, Nestle and General Mills.

Collectively resembles efforts such as the Richmond Standard, a Chevron-backed news site purveying information about Richmond, Calif., a Bay Area city that happens to host a major Chevron refinery. I wrote about this PR effort here. The downside of getting your information from a putatively objective source owned and operated by its own corporate subject was shown by how reporters at NFL.com treated the league’s domestic abuse scandal, as I outlined here.

Collectively says it will operate with “complete editorial independence"; now and then, it pledges, stories will appear about “sustainable innovation from our partner organizations, but they are selected entirely on the merits of their newsworthiness and potential to create positive change. On Collectively, we’re as excited to talk about the work of a social entrepreneur in Kigali as we are to break the news about a global environmental initiative from Nike.”

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All together now: Uh-huh. Or as Gawker, which wrote about the site’s launch this week, put it: “Cynical? Stop being part of the problem.”

That’s an allusion to the passive-aggressive tone of the site’s introductory essay: “Today’s media is obsessed with fear-mongering tactics, and a pervasive pessimism,” writes Collectively’s Dory Carr-Harris. “Collectively will break through that negativity and cynicism to help people learn how they can help.”

Here’s a taste of how that might work in practice. Collectively’s report on the recent climate change summit at the United Nations and the people’s climate change march mentioned appearances, addresses or other participation by representatives of Ikea, Apple, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Virgin, Unilever, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Cargill. “Fortune 500 companies and big name brands are usually considered the enemy of climate talks,” the piece declared. “But this year, alongside the 120 delegates from governments worldwide, were business leaders who wanted to show that being green was a top priority.”

One would think that all these companies have suddenly repented their history of, er, unsustainable behavior. It couldn’t have been put better by the advertising and marketing companies Omnicom, WPP or Havas. They’re all partners in Collectively, by the way.

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