On April 9th, the LA Times ran a fake article on the bottom left-hand corner of its frontpage. The piece (at right), about characters in NBC’s new drama Southland, was set off from the rest of the paper with a thick, black border and had the NBC logo and word “advertisement” above it, but it still looked like a real story. (It was accompanied by a conventional, banner-style ad for the show at the bottom of the page.)
Indeed, it represented the latest step in the encroachment of ads onto the front pages of newspapers and magazines. The NY Times already ran a huge CBS ad on its frontpage and Esquire recently put an ad on the front of the magazine. But those looked like ads, which might explain why the outcry from staff members at those publications wasn’t as severe as the rage apparently circulating through the LA Times newsroom, which has resulted in a petition.
Reuters explains: 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 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.”
Still, as Reuters points out, it’s a tough ad market out there and the LA Times “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.”
Also, according to LA Observed, the original plan for the ad would have been much worse:
Newsroom sources say that as of Tuesday, publisher Eddy Hartenstein had OK’d giving over all of column six — the right-hand column where the day’s lede story runs — to NBC. That ad would have run the whole length of the most valuable news column, then across the bottom of the page in a reverse L. Strenuous objections from newsroom leaders were reportedly joined by some key ad department people, who thought that soiling the LAT brand in such an unprecedented way would do more harm than good to the bottom line.
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