Attracting an Audience

current unit focuses on mass media, and how language is used to reach a certain audience and achieve a certain purpose. I figured that the lessons would be easier to plan and assignments simpler to grade if I helped the class narrow down the possible topics to three or four, and everyone could write on one of those; we could get some basic subject knowledge in each area, and they could supplement their own standpoint with individual research. In one of the first class sessions, a Dana pointed out that bloggers often don’t take full advantage of the freedom that blogging theoretically provides, since they are afraid of being labelled as biased, or of being attacked for their opinions. I thought quite a bit
about her point, which, although not new to me, struck me as more significant for Palestinian bloggers than for American ones, and it influenced the way I wanted to teach the unit. We began focusing on tactics to gain and maintain an audience, with a critical eye to how commonly used tactics to win “views” on the internet can alter a message. Provocative, exaggerated or gossipy headlines, polemical language, humor and metaphor are some of the popular devices employed as “click-bait,” a phrase the students taught me. But does the use of these tactics impact the message? “I’m writing about feminism,” said Nour. “I can’t use a gossipy tone.” Her classmates retorted that she could; “OK, but I wouldn’t” she clarified. Why not? I asked. “It would be unethical,” “It makes the topic seem unimportant,” “People wouldn’t take the topic seriously.” We discussed the dance that bloggers must do, in attracting an audience, while maintaining the integrity of their message. I’ve been impressed with how thoughtfully they have considered what degree of “self-selling” is appropriate to their topic, since many have chosen weighty issues such as stereotypes of Arabs, young girls sold into marriage in Syria, and the dangers Palestinian children face when travelling across occupied territory to get to school. I imagine Early Friends having contemplated a similar challenge: the truth they wanted to convey was too vital to be diluted for the sake of mass appeal. And yet they had to make their new message feel compelling and alive. In one sense, Friends then and now have it easier than bloggers. The blogger’s message is evident only through his written language. Friends can count on their lived example to attract others to their truth, a “click-bait” strategy which seems to speak louder than words. Mimi Marstaller, Volunteer Teacher at Ramallah Friends School