L.A. Times staffers fume over front-page ad
Horrified by what they see as a deceptive blurring of the line between paid advertising and news stories, some 100 employees at the paper have signed a petition to Publisher Eddy Hartenstein “strenuously” objecting.
“This place already had horrible morale problems with decimating layoffs, but now to have our publisher whore out the front page is more than we can stand,” one editorial staff member told Reuters. “It blurs the line between paid content and content that our reporters are producing.”
The ad, which runs down the left column of the front page, is for the new NBC police drama “Southland.” It’s topped with the headline: “Southland’s Rookie Hero,” followed by the sub-head “A ride-along on an officer’s first day.”
The ad is surrounded by a black border and has the NBC logo and word “advertisement” above it, but resembles a news story. Along the bottom of the front page is a more conventional, banner-style ad for the show, announcing that it premieres tonight.
“The NBC ad may have provided some quick cash, but it has caused incalculable damage to this institution,” the petition reads. “This action violates a 128-year pact with our readers that the front page is reserved for the most meainingful stories of the day. Place a fake news article on A-1 makes a mockery of our integrity and journalistic standards.”
Newspapers are pushing the boundaries between advertising and editorial content as they struggle to compete in the Internet age. Many used to run front page ads way back at the beginning of the 20th century, and some, like The Wall Street Journal, are trying it again.
This tends to annoy reporters and editors who say it’s wrong to devote valuable front-page space to ads. They also don’t like gimmicks like this because it could confuse readers and drag down the paper’s reputation.
The argument from the other side typicaly boils down to “desperate times, desperate measures.” The LAT is owned by a bankrupt publisher and run by a group of people who do not have ink running in their veins
They say that if they can raise big cash by charging for a front-page ad this way, particularly when the ad market for papers is shrinking, maybe they can keep the paper alive and stop laying off employees.
What do you think about ads disguised as news? We’d love to hear from you.
Photo credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser (The Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles)