Getting the message across

Dave – the editor

What we try to avoid with the South Essex Radical Media project is standing still, producing propaganda as an end in itself rather than a means to an end and just getting stuck in a rut. Which is why in the autumn of 2020, we archived the South Essex Heckler and created a more targeted range of successor projects: This really is the last post! Even in the relatively short period of time these projects have been going, we’ve been experimenting with different ways of getting the message across in an engaging way with the aim of inspiring people to take action.

Being a bit old school, our preferred method of distributing propaganda is via printed papers and flyers, handed out door-to-door, on the street, on protests and at fairs. All while having face to face conversations with people. Obviously with the series of lockdowns and tiered restrictions we’ve been subjected to since March 2020, there have been no real opportunities for distributing printed material. In a tiered restriction as opposed to a full lockdown, there is the possibility of a door-to-door distribution. That’s something we’re thinking about for the spring going into the summer.

Apart from a few sticker runs, we’ve had to conduct all of our propagandising online which is far from ideal. Namely because in the main, it tends to be a self selecting audience visiting our blogs. Having said this, there have been a few Thurrock and Basildon Heckler posts on local issues that have hit a nerve and gone viral, along with any accompanying graphics.

Since March 2020, we’ve been experimenting with different ways of communicating our ideas and commentary. For a few months we trialled some online versions of the South Essex Heckler paper. It didn’t work because, as mentioned above, the audience for our blogs is mainly self selecting. If you don’t try, you don’t get and it was worth trying simply to learn the lessons from the experience of online papers not being a success. Having said this, like pretty much most other anarchist and radical outfits, we always put up online versions of our material to compensate for limited budgets and limited print runs acting as a constraint on the number of people we could reach.

While the experience of producing online papers was a mixed one, it did get me to start thinking about how that graphic approach could be taken over to our blogs, in particular the Thurrock and Basildon Heckler which is aimed at a local audience. One approach was the production of irreverent memes – one example being the above image of the two clowns that run Basildon Council. A meme which by all accounts has proved to be very popular with residents of Basildon pissed off with the bullshit emanating from the mouth of the leader, Cllr. Gavin Callaghan.

Another tactic I’m trying out with the Thurrock and Basildon Heckler is using graphics to explain a situation in a way that attracts people’s attention and gets the message across as opposed to waffling on for paragraph after paragraph and losing people. The example shown below is a graphic created to explain the situation with the flooding risk in Stanford-le-Hope and how new housing on floodplains was one of the contributory factors. This is the post it was used on: Draw your own conclusions… That could have been explained in words but it would have run to a fair few paragraphs. As it happens, the only text that ended up being included was a live link to the Essex County Council flood risk map.

Is using graphics instead of a few paragraphs of verbiage dumbing down? Is it patronising? The answer to both is an emphatic no! It’s about getting a message across efficiently but also in as aesthetically pleasing way as possible. Was the Picture Post magazine published from 1938-1957 ‘dumbing down’? In my view, as an exponent of the art of photo-journalism, it was anything but. As was its US equivalent, Life, which was published from 1883 until 2000.

As stated previously, we don’t like getting in a rut and will only carry on with a particular approach if it’s seen to be working in terms of not just getting an audience but also spurring people into taking some kind of action. If that ceases to work, we’ll think about trying something else such as videocasts. Don’t worry, the camera will be pointing away from our faces! When it comes to this blog, even though it’s where the longer, more in depth pieces go, I’m thinking about ways of introducing more in the way of visual content.

Onto the question of style… With the Heckler in its various incarnations over the years, we’ve always aimed at a local audience. That means getting our message across clearly but also, whenever appropriate, in an entertaining way as well. We’ve found that keeping the typography and imagery clear and punchy helps in achieving this. The choice of typeface and image is simply a means to an end which is communicating a message.

What you choose to use in the way of fonts and images depends on the audience you’re aiming at and what you think you know about how they may respond to whatever you put out. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ set way of achieving this. Moving on from this, is there such a thing as an ‘anarchist style of graphics’? I pride myself on being reasonably visually aware and having read a wide range of anarchist flyers, papers, magazines and journals over the years, I can categorically state there’s no such thing! Each one of these publications has been different from each other, reflecting the skills of the comrades producing them as well as the audience they’re aiming at. They range from the disciplined and quite restrained through to spiky and the whimsical. As you can clearly see from the images of the Freedom and Whitechapel Anarchist papers below:)

When it comes to getting our message across, it’s simply down to a case of what works and what doesn’t. That’s defined by the audience you’re aiming at. We’ve got our own particular style but there’s no way we’d dream of telling other anarchists and radicals what the content and look of their propaganda should be like. Sure, none of us get it right all of the time with our material but most of us learn from our mistakes and move on. Having said that, a legitimate exchange of views on producing propaganda is sharing skills, tips and tricks and resources. To conclude, the main thing to bear in mind is that it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself…

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