With any cultural moment these days comes merch, and news, for better or worse, is having a moment.
Sacai has a mini-collection of hoodies and Ts featuring The New York Times’ post-Trump election “Truth” campaign, which included a takeover of a Saks Fifth Avenue window. Then there’s the Newseum’s sale of shirts trying to make an ironic point of the “Fake News” rhetoric that’s somehow become a mainstay of public discourse.
Now, it’s a limited collaboration between the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation and boutique public relations agency Workhouse, resulting in a “Free Press” T-shirt. A portion of the sales will be donated to the Press foundation, which was founded by a group of press advocates, including Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. Glenn Greenwald, founder of The Intercept; Laura Poitras, a journalist and the director behind the documentary “Citizenfour,” and Edward Snowden, the former intelligence officer who leaked information about government security programs, all count as board FPF board members.
Trevor Timm, a cofounder and a journalist, noted that the T-shirts come at a time when “one party controls three branches of government, so the fourth estate, the press, is really the last mechanism that the public has to force accountability on government.”
Of course, no T-shirt can actually do that, but by wearing them, Adam Nelson, founder and chief executive officer of Workhouse, thinks people won’t have to be silent about their beliefs. “In times of true cowardice, I think it’s important to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
And as a branding expert, one that also works with the press as a matter of course, the collaboration with the FPF came about simply because he couldn’t stand to see the industry undermined so constantly. But his frustration with the relatively subdued and staid response by the journalism community to Trump’s furious and constant lambasting of all information he dislikes also seems to have played a part.
“What I find strange, from our community of wordsmiths and incredibly capable, probing investigative journalists, is the silence,” Nelson said. “Yes, there are some amazing docs like the ‘The Fourth Estate’ where you see how hard it is to wrestle with this time [in news], and yet everything we’ve been built upon [as a country] is the courage to stand and speak. Fear and anxiety and so many outside factors, corporate interests and relationships, have stood in the way of a kind of transparency to do just that.”
And part of him sees this as a pretty classic branding problem that hasn’t been combated aggressively enough, especially since Trump seems to be fluent in some classic advertising strategies.
“In a weird way, we must all take pages from the playbooks of the past if Trump’s point of view on this is repetition and couching terminology from the advertising industry,” Nelson added. “I think every journalist could embrace the idea that there is a branding crisis here, when the largest mic in the room is shouting down journalists, calling them fake and disgusting.”
Even though there are a lot of pins and stickers and shorts and hats on both sides of the political divide, Nelson hopes that that a simple message of “free press” will further concentrate a collaborative effort in the journalism community to not only defend their work but to push back against Trump’s “war” on the media. More than 100 U.S. newspapers are set on Thursday to publish editorials lambasting Trump. Maybe someone will send the newsrooms free T-shirts.
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