MEDIA BRANDS: State Department introduces 'Hi' in effort to start meaningful dialogue with Middle East audience

The most common symbol of the global creep of American culture is the golden arches. When McDonald's corporate icon pops up in cities, it triggers ambivalence, anger, and, on a few occasions, violence. For those who oppose the fast-food chain, it's generally attacked as a debasement of local tradition by America's vapid pop culture.

The most common symbol of the global creep of American culture is the golden arches. When McDonald's corporate icon pops up in cities, it triggers ambivalence, anger, and, on a few occasions, violence. For those who oppose the fast-food chain, it's generally attacked as a debasement of local tradition by America's vapid pop culture.

The State Department, in its effort to educate the Middle East on the American way of life, is taking a distinctly different tack in its entry into the region's cultural life. The glossy pages of Hi magazine, now on newsstands in about 20 countries for about two dollars, is a soft sell of the US as a place where diversity of opinion and expression thrives. It's free of stories about boy bands and J. Lo and there are no scantily clad teen actresses. Instead, it has profiles of people like actor Tony Shalhoub and singer Norah Jones, features on indie films and smoking. There's even poetry in every issue. Judging by the editorial outlines provided to the press, Hi takes the high road - at least in terms of the view of America it presents to young Arabs. It's clearly more New Yorker than Us Weekly with an editorial sensibility that would seem to jibe with the stricter mores of many Arab countries, as well as broaden the understanding of America that's been formed by the TV shows that pour into the region. "There's a lot of pop culture available to people [in the Mideast]; there's a lot of TV," says Richard Creighton, EVP and principal of The Magazine Group, Hi's publisher. "To use a TV simile, people can get Entertainment Tonight in the Middle East, but most of them aren't getting PBS." Magazine consultant, journalism professor, and Hi consulting editor Samir Husni compares the title to a regional lifestyle magazine, like Southern Living. "It's an introduction to America," he says. "An opportunity to start a dialogue." Not everyone sees it this way. Some criticized the title's launch, which of course came hot on the heels of the US' invasion of Iraq, as mere propaganda. To preempt these objections. Hi's editors are making the project interactive. The articles, says Creighton, are followed by questions addressed to readers, who are encouraged to visit Hi's website. "Because we're an independent publisher, we know that what we're doing is providing good information to people that's not propaganda," Creighton says. "We're not proselytizing people. We're trying to talk to people, not down to them." Creighton, whose company has created custom publications for a roster of clients that includes Pitney Bowes, says that his task remains the same, whether the client is public or private sector. "I think you're trying to understand an organization, identify an audience, and develop editorial that's a match, that's going to help the organization build a relationship with the people it's trying to talk to," he says. "I don't think the government is any more political than a corporation might be." -Matthew Creamer

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.