Why Ethical Action?

I came to teaching certain that learning locked up in a classroom was not only boring, it was not mindful. So when I began teaching Media Ethics I was determined to bring mindfulness into my teaching practice. Sharing wisdom gained through mindfulness was one thing. Preparing future media professionals for the tasks ahead of them was quite another. Or maybe not. Thus this blog was born.

Why This BlogThich Nhat Hanh, the esteemed Buddhist priest, suggests that the practice of mindfulness brings our mind back to our body. In mindfulness we experience the present moment deeply, simply and often profoundly. Our senses awaken. Our heart responds. We see and hear deeply, with non-judgment and compassion. In mindfulness understanding, acceptance and ultimately love are born.

Parker Palmer, an extraordinary teacher of contemplative pedagogy, suggests six paradoxical tensions built into an engaged learning space. It should 1) be bounded and open; 2) be hospitable and charged; 3) invite the voice of the individual and the chorus the group; 4) honor the small stories of learners and the big stories of disciplines and traditions; 5) support solitude and embrace the community; and 6) welcome silence and speech.

Contemplative learning seemed the perfect way to help build the kind of space Palmer describes. Meditative practice, which I have long engaged in, is profoundly useful for that task. It helps turn off the chaos reflected in and perpetuated by postmodern media. Meditative practice helps turn down the external volume and turn up the internal volume.

Welcome to Ethical Action. A place for open, hospitable and charged discussions. A place that invites all voices and honors all stories. A place offering both quiet solitude and community engagement. A place for mindful silence and thoughtful words. A place to mindfully explore options for ethical actions across media.

The blog has eight categories. Each is predicated on mindful explorations of media and the individuals who work there. Big Pharma, Big Money explores the ethical tensions between research and marketing in pharmaceuticals.  Transparency, Truth and the Future of Branding exposes the tension between fact and fiction in branded messages. Vanishing Creative Women explores the lack of women in advertising creative departments across the globe. Fragmentation and Postmodern Journalism explores the changing face of journalism in an ever-mediated world. Mindfulness offers commentaries on the struggles to experience the present moment deeply and simply. Manipulation, Power and Political Voices expresses critical perspectives relative to media and the political process. Public Relations Ethical Opportunities offers insights into the world of spin. Gendered Representations reflects on how gender impacts media production and how media both constructs and reflects our understanding of gender.

Share your wisdom with a guest post at jean.grow@marquette.edu and enjoy the blog!




I remember. December 14, 2012 the day 26 people, 20 of them children, were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Sandy H NamesI remember. The Second Amendment to the Constitution was introduced by James Madison on June 8, 1789. It focused on the right to bear arms for “military service” rendered to secure a “free country.” The intention was for citizen militias, the same militias that had fought the British with single shot muskets, to defend the new nation. Seven iterations later the Second Amendment stated, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I remember. On January 10, less than one month after the Sandy Hook massacre, the National Rifle Association (NRA) issued a statement stating in part, “We attended today’s White House meeting to discuss how to keep our children safe and were prepared to have a meaningful conversation… We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment.”

I believe. The Second Amendment was never intended to allow for citizens to bear semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines. These military grade weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. (That was a very difficult sentence to write.) James Madison would be horrified by the NRA’s manipulation of the amendment he introduced in 1789 and the NRA’s ability to adversely influence government policy.

I believe. Madison would have been equally distressed by the lack of will among politicians to stand up to those who wish to distort the second amendment. Politicians have an obligation the citizens of the United States of America and not to the NRA.

I believe. The media has a moral obligation to address gun control, not only as a political issue but also as a public health issue. Today, more than ever before, the media needs to be the arbiter of rationale public discourse. Slate and @GunDeaths have begun the process creating a crowdsourced tally of firearms deaths since the Newtown massacre.

I know. It is October 31, more than 10 months since the Newtown massacre. As of today there have been 10,042 more gun deaths in America. When will it stop?


Siren’s Song

Reporter, James Foley, is drawn to conflict zones. When he spoke Marquette in December 2011, he said it was a “siren’s song that called me to the front lines.”

Foley Foley graduated from Marquette, though not the College of Communication. Rather, he studied Spanish and History. That global perspective served him well as he moved into the world. As I often tell my students, in many mass media fields you don’t necessarily need a degree in that subject. Rather, you need to be a student of culture. That he was.

That pull of the siren has again proved treacherous. On January 2, his family released the news that Foley was missing, again. The first time, back in April 2011 he was captured in Libya, while working for GlobalPost. That time he was released after 45 days, though a colleague was killed. This time they kept quiet hoping it would encourage his release. No such luck.

This time Foley was captured in Syria, near the Turkish boarder, while working for Agence France Presse (AFP). It happened on Thanksgiving and witnesses reported that Foley was picked up at gunpoint, though gunmen later released this driver and the translator. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

AFP chairman, Emmanuel Hoog, said they are earnestly working to secure Foley’s release. The family has also launched a website, http://www.freejamesfoley.org, and ask visitors to support their appeal for his release by signing the petition.

As a mother it would be a nightmare to have a child missing, abducted in a war zone. I sit quietly, mindfully taking this in. I am reminded that there are lessons in suffering. But as I think of all the violence in the world I cannot help but wonder why we humans seem to need such an abundance of lessons, of suffering. I think that no matter how long I sit I shall never understand.

James Foley is not the only missing journalist in Syria. Washington Post reporter Austin Tice, has been missing in Syria since August 13. He was last seen near the Lebanese border. Just two weeks ago NBC reporter Richard Engel and his crew escaped after being held by pro-Assad militiamen in the same region. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog group, in 2012 there were 28 journalist killed covering conflict zones.

I am still sitting. The one thing that keeps coming into my mind is knowing that Foley had once taught reading and writing to incarcerated felons. With that I sense a tiny thread connecting me to his mother, Diane Foley. A painful crystal of acceptance is beginning to form in my heart. I bow to each of them.


3 Percent

…of all advertising Creative Directors are women.

It’s a shocking number to consider, especially when you know that women make upwards of 80 percent of all consumption choices.

So on 27 September 2012 the amazing Kat Gordon launched the inaugural 3 Percent Conference in San Francisco to explore why. Creative stars like Cindy Gallop, Susan Hoffman, Margaret Johnson, Nancy Hannon, Liz Paradise and a dazzling array of other creative women inspired us all. Check out Will Burn’s Forbes article on “Advertising’s Biggest Problem” and consider the diminishing effect 3 percent has on creative output. It’s big and it’s dark.

I was honored to be one of the speakers presenting: Global Women. Global Perspectives. Looking at the situation across six countries, I believe that the lack of women in creative is not a gender issue and framing it as such minimizes it. It is a business problem that needs solutions. Here are five key findings that my work highlights.

The Train has Left the Station. And it is loaded with far more young women, and they are not going away. It’s time. Not titles. The future status will be time, and money, of course. Take up Space. Women need to seen and heard on the big accounts destined to win awards, and on the judging panels that bestow those awards. Respect and Rewards. Creative women work hard to do great work, and then work harder to prove themselves again, just because they are female, all the while being paid less. Men Hire in Their Own Image. Intentional or unintentional – this is something the industry can no longer ignore.

This is not about just doing the right thing. It is about doing the smart thing. So I say to creative women across the globe and the wise men who champion them: Clients value you. Consumers want you. Society needs you.


Hip. White. Men.

In 2011 attended the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. The holy grail of advertising creativity. It was my first visit to Cannes, but not my first to advertising awards shows. I’ve been in and around the ad industry for years. In the end, I think, awards shows are awards shows. They may get bigger and more expensive and express a global venue – but little changes.


Hip. Casual chic was everywhere in the same timeless way advertising hip has been demonstrated for years – jeans and tee shirts with funky shoes. Of course, as it was Cannes and so the optional khaki shorts and sandals appeared. Youth, the iconic marker of hip, was also abundantly apparent and, as usual, encouraged by the excessive flow of alcohol. Hip translated smoothly from people to images and ideas. But, this too was not new. Youthful hip is a perennially postmodern phenomenon bred within and well articulated by advertising.

White. For as global as our world has become the advertising images were inherently western, even if the agencies were from Singapore or San Paolo. In print small logos, resting quietly in the lower right corner, with minimal copy along side small headlines and dominant visuals predominated – just as they have for years. There were winners from Brazil and India, and China snagged its first gold lion, but most were from global multi-national agencies who have moved into emerging markets anxious to help spread global capitalism. Despite the diversity of winners almost everyone was a polished hip western, “white.” For a global marketplace it was discouraging to see such homogenous blending of constructed shades of white.

Men. They were everywhere, just like in the agency world where they make-up virtually 80 percent of all creative departments. The judging panels continued to play out the 80/20 game – perpetuating a style and a way of working that is defined by masculinity and not by the people who make the lion’s share of consumption choices – women. The surprise, though it should not have been, was the “New Directors Showcase,” with 17 new directors – all men, if my memory serves me correctly. Here too history repeated itself with hyper-masculine imagery of boyhood remembered, violence, and sex, with a few rare exceptions. Of the 17 directors only five featured female characters and of that four were sophomoric and sexualized representations. The greatest differentiating factor was the dazzling technological executions.

This seems a story with a predetermined ending. Which takes me back to where I began. Hip. White. Men. Advertising seems to be speaking to hip white men – who award hip, white men  – who hire hip, white men – who…

And we wonder why advertising, and media I might add, have a certain gendered point of view? I don’t.


Living Mindfully

Mindfulness1The great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, encourages us to live mindfully every day, every hour, every moment. It exhausts me to think of it. Yet, when I practice mindfulness I feel extraordinarily connected to the present moment, no longer exhausted.

If I am to be honest, mindfulness does not come easily. It comes with practice. For years, I have practiced meditation and yoga. (Yoga long before it became today’s trendy, sweaty, maniacal, body shaping American drama.) Despite the fact that mindful moments can be fleeting, mindful meditative practice remains a mainstay in my life. And it is the practice of mindfulness that has become my teacher. In mindful practice I find a respite from, as well as an invitation to go deeper into, the challenges inherent in my professional and personal life. In the practice of mindfulness I find stillness. I find acceptance.

At a broader level mindful contemplative practice offers the opportunity to engage more fully with our families, our neighbors, our professional communities and democratic process. The cultivation of mindfulness offers the opportunity to find wisdom through introspection. The practice of mindfulness is inherently a private practice. Yet corporations have also come to value its positive impact on concentration, creative process and productivity. Companies from Microsoft to Google are known to offer mindfulness workshops for their employees.

Personally, I find that the practice of living mindfully brings me understanding with greater clarity. Experiences that once caused me angst, I no longer fear. Circumstances that troubled me, no longer cause turmoil. Challenges that I once saw as extraordinarily complex, simplify. In short, I find acceptance. In acceptance, I see the world as it is, not as I want it to be. In acceptance my senses are fully engaged. In acceptance I find the answers I need.

Some years ago a wise woman shared these words, which find their origin in Buddhist mediation. As we begin our Media Ethics journey I share them with you. “May you know peace. May your heart remain open. May you know the beauty of your higher self. May you be healed. May you be a source of healing.”

As you approach the exploration of ethical practices, may the the practice of mindfulness provide you with a calm spirit and lead you to wisdom and clarity. For the world will challenge you with exquisite illusions and tantalizing false promises. Be steady. Be still. Be well.


The Problem with Truth

Harley-Davidson is an iconic American brand. The freewheeling American Harley rebel was recognized across the globe, with its bold take no prisoners brand persona. Yes, Harley has an aging problem. Yes, Harley has a gender problem. But, it had one hell of an image and a solid platform from which to tackle its aging baby boomer boy problem.

Carmichael AdLike the Marlboro Man, Harley was iconic. It screamed freedom, which screams American. It leveraged every sensory experience to create a great brand experience and its advertising sang it praises. You didn’t have to ride a Harley to love the brand. It was as American as, well, apple pie.

It’s been a few years year since breaking up with Carmichael Lynch. Their relationship with crowd sourcing can no longer be considered a wild fling. The brand no longer playing the field. It’s committed. It feels wrong. For as in your face and raw as the old brand was, I trusted it. It was real. It was American. It was mine – even if I don’t own a bike.

No Cages AdNo Cages tells the truth by letting riders write the copy. It’s preaching to the choir – ah, the perils of crowd sourcing. It’s wrong for the brand. It’s the truth of its aging demographic. It’s not the truth this brand needs. Truth in this case is a cultural truth, even when it’s raw. This truth doesn’t embody the American spirit. It doesn’t ignite passion.

I would be the first to admit that the brand’s image is more than macho. I’ll also admit some brands are meant to be macho. More importantly, Harley is a truly “Made in America” brand. Far beyond advertising that is what this brand should be touting. When it comes to truth and transparency and the future of Harley I say Screw It. Let’s Ride.