For the approximately 770,000 (and dwindling) subscribers to the Los Angeles Times, Thursday’s front-page story may have come as a bit of a surprise. People that thought they were reading a story about the new NBC show “Southland” (in the bottom left-hand side of the page) were not actually reading an editorial story, but a front-page advertisement designed to look like a article. The advertisement has a small NBC logo at the top of the story with the word “advertisement” below it, followed by a headline, sub-headline, and the story.
While other news outlets, such as ESPN The Magazine and the New York Times, have been featuring front-page advertising as well, the Los Angeles Times is the first to have an front-page advertisement in the shape of an editorial story, which is causing some debate in the media circles.
In a statement, The Times said that the ad was one of several “innovative approaches” it was trying. “That includes creating unique marketing opportunities for our advertising partners, and today’s NBC ‘Southland’ ad was designed to stretch traditional boundaries,” the statement said.
It’s no secreat that newspapers are in a major financial mess, but advertisements appearing as editorial coverage steps over the line. What could prevent politicians from doing the same thing during their campaings, writing their own stories about themselves and their opponents, making it appear like it’s an original story? So while newspapers search for creative ways to increase revenue, it’s important that they don’t comprimise their key principals.
UPDATE: Peter Kafka at All Things D is reporting that a petition has been going around the LA Times newsroom protesting the front-page ad, and that publisher Eddy Hartenstein will address the staff this afternoon. Here is the petition:
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.