Imagine a sinking ship with a crew split into two groups of “journalists” and “marketers.”
The “marketers” have found an effective—if somewhat insidious and unsustainable—way to quickly bail water from the ship. In response, the “journalists” scream and wail, shed a few tears and throw a tantrum. They issue a statement. They are disgusted by those other crew members.
But they don’t jump ship.
That’s the scenario at the sinking Los Angeles Times. On Thursday, it ran a front-page ad for a new NBC program that looked very similar to a news story. The editorial staff responded with anger, and issued this statement:
We the journalists of the newsroom strenuously object to the decision to sell an ad, in the form of a phony news story, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.
The NBC ad may have provided some quick cash, but it has caused incalculable damage to this institution. This action violates a 128-year pact with our readers that the front page is reserved for the most meaningful stories of the day. Placing a fake news article on A-1 makes a mockery of our integrity and our journalistic standards.
The Los Angeles Times stands apart from other sources of news and information in Southern California because of our willingness to report the truth, even when it angers powerful interests or puts us in peril. Our willingness to sell our most precious real estate to an advertiser is embarrassing and demoralizing.
Incalculable damage was done to the institution years ago when people stopped reading the L.A. Times print edition.* Hundreds of newsroom positions have been slashed. The number of sections and pages the paper prints has steadily shrunk in recent years.
Why? Because ad revenue has plunged.
So what if ads are sold on the front page, as long as they’re clearly marked (and the ad in the L.A. Times was labeled). It probably won’t save the industry, but then again you never know; it might help.
Would readers rather have a paper with more reporters and editors, more pages and more sections—more news—or an incredibly shrinking—and stubborn—newspaper that won’t surrender its antiquated view of the industry’s advertising model?
And if those newsroom staffers are so appalled by the front-page ad why don’t they quit?** Oh yeah, because their supposed integrity doesn’t pay as much.
Quit whining, start bailing and get to work—there’s news to cover.
*While print readers fall off, Web readership has reportedly soared at the L.A. Times. Reports surfaced earlier this year that the L.A. Times revenue from Web ads could pay the salaries of its editorial employees. Of course, the cost of running a newspaper goes well beyond simply paying reporters and editors.
**Looks like they’ll get a second chance to quit. The paper’s Sunday Calendar section will be wrapped in ad content. This time it’s a four-page supplement for The Soloist, a film about a disenchanted L.A. Times Journalist.