Alongside Monday’s coverage of the Boston bombing, the New York Times online home page ran an ad featuring a bloodied man, presumably dead, to promote a new show on the Sundance Channel:
The Times’ top ad exec, vp Todd R. Haskell, says it’s acceptable: “This did not feel like it crossed the threshold.”
Many of the site’s readers, however, found the placement to be in poor taste.
One reader, David J. Eilbott, commented:
“Looking at both images side by side simultaneously is almost gut-wrenching … I would urge the The Times in the future to be more sensitive to readers and use better judgement in deciding what goes on the home page.”
Another readers, Carol H. Sawyer, also weighed in: “Take that Sundance ad down right now!”
Some who saw the ad likely assumed it was an accident, an oversight. But that’s not really how ad placement works. Given the value of the industry, major advertisements on high-traffic sites are generally planned to a tee.
And that’s exactly the case with the ad in question, which was promoting the premiere of a new show, Rectify. Haskell explained how the conclusion was reached to run the Rectify ad on the home page despite the bombing coverage.
“We try to be as respectful as we can but these are subjective calls that we make in real time,” said Haskell. In his defence of the ad placement, he noted that coverage of the bombing had shifted from breaking to analytical, which supposedly deemed the ad acceptable.
Richard J. Meislin, who is a liaison between the newsroom and the ad department, reacted as well, saying that the juxtaposition was “unfortunate, but it did not cross the line to the point where we would ask that the ad be taken down.”
According to Margaret Sullivan, a public editor for The Times, the website also had “justifiable business reasons” to go ahead with the sale of the premium home page space. Ad space like this is often planned months in advance, making a last-minute change difficult.
Nevertheless, the decision to follow a week of horrific images of the bombing aftermath with a gruesome ad depicting a violent death elicited “a lot of letters,” said Steph Jesperson, The Times’ director of advertising acceptability.
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