Haggling over the price of one’s journalistic soul

Friday’s front page

We’ve already established what you are, ma’am. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

George Bernard Shaw

Well, which is it?

A. A sure sign of the apocalypse.

B. An affront to the subscribers and the concept of separation of church and state/editorial and advertising.

C. A good way to make a quick buck.

What do you think of Friday’s front page of the Los Angeles Times featuring a garishly colored image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter pasted over what appeared to be a legitimate news front page? Instead, it was a four-page advertising wrap for the “Alice in Wonderland” movie. The real A section of the page with a usual front page was inside.

The New York Times reports the editor of the L.A. paper vigorously opposed the wrapper, but lost out to the business execs. Editor Russ Stanton was quoted as saying, “Obviously, it was not my decision.”

CNN reported that the ad probably netted the paper well over $100,000, at which I chuckled out loud.

A Web site called The Wrap claimed an insider at the paper confirmed a price tag of $700,000. Now that sounds more like it.

The Wrap quoted a Times spokesman as saying, ““We worked very closely with Disney to come up with an exceptional and distinctive way to help them open ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ It was designed to create buzz, and to extend the film’s already brilliant marketing campaign.”

The New York paper quoted Geneva Overholser, director of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, “It’s a little troubling that they’re blending editorial content with advertising. This isn’t newspapering as it used to be, but that can’t be the determinant any more.”

Sounds a bit resigned. She once resigned as editor of a paper, saying it was because the publisher was cutting back.

Reuters quoted Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media studies as saying, "That’s a low price to sell your soul."

"I want the Los Angeles Times to make a lot of money, and I want them to use that money to do some of the best journalism they’ve ever done," he said. "But I think that this strategy is deceptive, and that my old school ulcer is starting to burn a little a bit."

The Review-Journal does what are called spadeas from time to time, a vertical half page overlapping the cover page, usually with editorial content on the outside and advertising inside. We also sell little peel-off sticky ads on the front page. On the Strip we wrap the page with a Daily Visitor’s Guide that lists entertainment and carries Strip-specific ads.

The wave of the future or apocalypse now?

At least the ad did not buy favorable criticism. An L.A. Times movie critic said of the film, "One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the pills Tim Burton gives you don’t do very much at all."






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