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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cover Ads and Gnashing of Teeth 

The New York Times reports that the Wall Street Journal will begin to offer ad space on its front page in September.

Notes the Times:

The move is one more sign of the relentless financial pressures that have forced newspapers to consider new ways of raising money — like giving prominence to advertisers in areas of the paper once considered sacred.

Because of The Journal’s prominence and adherence to tradition, the decision could be influential. American newspapers ran front-page ads in bygone days, but in modern times, most have not done so.

And there's the predictable gnashing of teeth:

“As a traditionalist, I’m not thrilled by the idea,’’ said Bob Steele, who specializes in ethics and values at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. Front pages, Mr. Steele said, should be reserved for what the collective community considers to be news.

“Gannett has changed this equation considerably in the last few years with section-front and front-page ads, and now the Internet has presented a whole new tabletop,’’ he said. “The question becomes, How do newspapers protect their journalistic integrity at the same time they develop new revenue streams?’’

Oh, hogwash. As the Times points out, newspapers in the olden days often, if not always, had ads on their front pages. And the best way that newspapers can protect journalistic integrity is to generate enough revenue to continue to afford to employ journalists. If ad space on the cover of the Wall Street Journal helps to do that, why not? The online version of the Journal already integrates advertising into its home page, as do the home pages of most online media. Since the greatest competitive threat to print newspapers comes from online media, I see no reason why "traditionalism" should hobble a print newspaper's ability to compete. And revenue is what allows it to compete.

This does raise the question, however, of what we in the magazine business can and can't do with our covers. Generally, magazine covers are different from newspaper front pages. There's less editorial content, and more image content. The space is used to sell what's inside the magazine, and stories generally don't start there (unless we're dealing with certain types of news weeklies).

A number of publishers (including me) have used false covers, bellybands, post-it notes, french gates, gatefolds and other tools to "sell" cover real estate to advertisers. In my view, as long as these tools don't interfere with the mission of the magazine cover--which is to get readers to crack open the book--and they don't violate reasonable standard of editorial ethics (they don't try to fool readers into thinking they're editorial content), they're fine by me. You may disagree, and I look forward to your comments.


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