Is The L.A. Times a sign of the times?

"We have to look at all sort of news solutions of our advertising client." I love the way L.A. Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein tried to explain his way out of a sticky situation. The publisher said he was trying to ensure that The Times could continue to operate. The entire controversy is over a front page ad for an NBC prime-time show. The Times carried a typical banner at the bottom of the front page. But the banner is connected to an ad that resembles a news story, and written from the perspecive of a reporter on a ride-along with L.A. cops. This is a first for one of America's leading newspapers. This opens a debate whether frontpage news is sacred anymore.

The backdrop to all of this is the fact The Times parent company, Tribune is in bankruptcy. As a result The Times has laid-off empoyees, and trimmed costs. Is the latest action a desperate attempt to make money, or a savy marketing plan? The pundits, and readers, and staff have reacted in disgust! I say it's un-ethical to morph advertising, and news even if it's an ad that clearly defines itself as an advertisment in the headline. The ad is written much like a news story, and that's what makes it strange. Something I never thought I'd see on the front page of The Times. 

Welcome to 2009, and the economic fall-out of a disasterous advertising era. If The Times wants to experiment with ads on the front page, they might as well mark off a quarter page to advertising, nothing but ads. How about a suppliment ad-page behind the front page, or even those sticky-post-its with an ad, and corresponding content. There are better ways to clearly seperate news content from ads especially on the front page.

We may all be crying foul for nothing. Newspapers are folding, and more content, even entire editions are carried on the internet. Look at an internet page. We are bombarded with ads that even pop out inside the content. On some sites I feel I'm navigating an obstacle course. News content is usually wrapped around ads. I've often clicked onto something that seemed like content, and it turned out to be an ad disguised as news content. I feel this is dangerous, and a further erosion of news standards.

Television news has it's own experiments with this type of marketing. Local stations are guilty of expanding a morning news talk segment into a car commercial. One morning talk show in San Diego is nothing but an infomercial. My favorites are the gas give-aways on past newscasts, or the techniques of giving away other prizes for watching news.  What about covering news, and providing viewers a real service.  Sure we're all interested in getting news for free, and I'm all for new experimental models in journalism, but we can't help but wonder if the news we're getting is clear of bias, or commercial intent. 


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