Selling Out the Front Page

March 16, 2010 by  
Filed under PR

It’s no secret newspapers have fallen on tough times. With more people turning to the Internet for their news and a recession that put advertising sales in the tank, newspapers are struggling. But that’s no reason to comprise journalism ethics and values.

In the more than 10 years I spent in newsrooms across this country, there’s always been a distinct line between editorial and advertising – “separation of church and state” as it’s often called. Unfortunately, that line is blurring as newspapers look for any way they can to make up lost revenue.

A perfect example of this was splashed across the front page of the Los Angeles Times on March 5. The LA Times worked with The Walt Disney Co. to create a fake front page promoting Disney’s new “Alice in Wonderland” movie. A large photo of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter covered a fake front page with the real front page pushed back to Page 2.

This incident makes my stomach churn. What it says to me is that advertising is more important than the news. It says news should take a back seat – in this case second page – to the almighty dollar.

I’m sure the PR professionals for Disney and the movie loved this concept. It was great exposure for the movie and the controversy surrounding it simply created more buzz about the film. But any self-respecting public relations professional – particularly those of us whose roots are in journalism – should value the sanctity of editorial content. There’s a reason you can’t buy coverage like a front page news story. At least that’s the way it used to be. This incident shows us apparently you can buy the front page.

Some may argue newspapers have to do what they can to survive.  Some may suggest that these sorts of promotions will keep more journalists from losing their jobs. That may be true, but at what cost? And do these journalists really want to work for a newspaper that values money over news? Newspapers should think twice before selling the front page – and PR folks should think twice before asking them to.

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2 Responses to “Selling Out the Front Page”
  1. Holly, I agree with you. I sometimes wonder whether most things I read are “bought and paid for” today. I received an invitation this week to appear on an international radio program and magazine for a major airline. The request was completely worded as if I would be a guest and would receive coverage in both places for taking the time. Then, I read the fine print. They wanted me to pay them almost $6,000! These sorts of things are icky and make me question almost everything I read or hear anymore.

  2. Holly Fisher says:

    Thanks for your comment, Andra. I too get very frustrated by advertising that is masquerading as “news.” It gives all journalists a bad name and confuses the public about what is news, what is advertising and what is commentary (don’t even me started about talk radio/TV!!)