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Waiter! There's Spam in my Newspaper!

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"WHAT! Great Caesar's Ghost!", I sputtered and screamed loudly as I reached for the Butler bell and flailed away until Jeeves came running in to soothe my gout ridden foot with a full decanter of fine single malt whiskey...

Newfangled Moneymaker

"Jeeves! There's Spam on my Los Angeles Times Newspaper! What is this advertorial about some television show doing on the front page?!" And then I threw the paper into the fireplace and watched it burn into wisps of flying gray ashes as Jeeves quickly pulled out a flaming remanent to light up my fine Cuban Cigar.

The Bean Counters Won (sort of) with the help of their Frenemy, the Internets

Today the Los Angeles Times pushed the ad banner further up from the bottom of the page, it was easy to ignore, way below the fold. Now it has snaked up the left column, this most sacrosanct of all spaces on the front page...Column One. What's next? "Los Angeles Times. Sponsored by the Xtreme Truck Pulling Expo"? "We hoot for the news?" by the girls of Hooter's? "Today's News sliced and diced for you by Wolverine?"

If I hadn't already gotten my 7 day subscription down to a paltry $21 per month, I would be calling the LATimes front desk and demanding someone to come over and cut it out. But I have a feeling that the next ad we will see will be coupons for the White Sale at Macy's or ads for DUI attorneys. Oh, to hope for something useful, like

The irony in this is the fact that we have two forms of media that are quickly being eclipsed by the internet; print and television. Both holding onto a lifesaver while trying to tread upstream as they approach the waterfall. I can almost hear the words "if we look like a webpage than everyone will read us again! Swim faster!"

What do you think? Am I living in the dark ages of "old timey print?" Or am I demanding quality reporting without having to navigate around "fake news?"

Update: I had better get Jeeves to work on Sunday, the calendar section will be wrapped in a four page Advertorial about the upcoming film Soloist disguised as kick ass journalism. The shame is that it is a film about the LATimes writer Steve Lopez and his stories about a homeless man who was a Juilliard graduate.

I asked for comments from my network on the LATimes and here's their feedback:

"I could not believe it when i saw that this morning in the times. I share your aghast! I hope that advertorials will not be a regular occurrence in the latimes - it cheapens this otherwise excellent newspaper."
- Gail Howland

"I don't really mind it. If that's what they need to do in this tough economy I understand.
If people aren't willing to pay what it actually costs them to print the paper Advertising revenues fill in the gap.You can't have your information for Free and not have advertising." - Lynn

"First let me say as a former employee of the ol' Tribune Corp, I'm glad to know someone on a local level has finally taken a look at this tragic story. Frontline has done a piece of the decline of the press in general (part of which includes an interview with Tribune and Times execs) and I believe Bill Moyers has as well--very insightful!
The death of the Los Angeles Times began in ernest when the buyouts began after the Chicago Tribune bought the company from the Chandler family, and the rest is history as they say! Can you have Jeeves bring me the brandy--the whole bottle thanks!"
- Paul Gladden

"Being a former art director that worked at The Times (in consumer marketing) for over a decade, I must say that when I was there the design, especially the front page was sacred and this NEVER would have even been considered.

Yes, this is the beginning (middle?) of the end. First ads (in this case for TV, but I've seen worse) on the front page. Now advertorials. And the layout looks like a second grader screwed up his/her attempt." - Anon

"Advertising made to look like news on the front page of the LA Times shows us that our local paper really is in trouble. How much did NBC have to pay for that media location? I'm guessing a pretty penny. Does this mean that news has less value than advertising? Or does it really show us all what terrible financial shape our newspaper is in. The Los Angeles Times is busted. They have laid off editors, writers, researchers, pressmen, you name it. There must be a writer or two left that has an amazing story to fill the lower left side of the front page.
There is a place for that ad. It's called the Calendar section. Okay, it belongs on the front page, lower left side of the Calendar section." - Betsy Nathane

"As a former journalist, i often see it come back to the basic debate: can we have 'freedom of the press' in a society where the existence of the press depends on sales? it's a hard time for newspapers, a lot of them are going under, and so we do see more ads, less traditional types and placements of ads, etc.
Another interesting thing, though, is the ownership of newspapers: historically, they were family-owned by people who were interested in journalism. however, as a business with an average 25% profit margin (in contrast to the average business, which has between 5 and 10% profit), in the last decade or so we've seen them snatched up by smart businesspeople who might not necessarily be interested in journalism so much as newspapers as a business venture. and when the profit is no longer worth their time, they're done. (there is a whole book about this i read, can't remember the name, though!)
Finally, readership has always been 55+ age group; the younger generation does prefer to get information from other sources. so that's part of the problem as well.
add all this together and, actually, yes, it might be the end. - Diana M.

"We are all unfortunately so used to infotainment and advertorials, we really can't be too surprised at this further usurping of print real estate. But the front page - how brazen and out-of-step can they be?! And on the heels of destroying the California section...the only thing left that was locally relevant or "custom to LA" about the Times. While the internet is creating a culture of manipulation-weary consumers intent on 2-way communication, the Time's "push" is the ultimate "shove."
Frankly, it just makes me want to cancel my subscription and buy USA Today instead - because it's becoming virtually the same thing, except USA Today has more color!" - Anna Marie P.

"It's trying to look more professional -like WSJ or NYT, but the balance of the rules are off and there's unnecessary use of color (for the dropcaps and the date. It's really awkward and clunky and trying way too hard. And there are too many different font-variants in use...too much going on!" - Karen L.

Update from the Pressroom of the LATimes:
A Petition circulated and signed by 100+ LATimes Staff Members.
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.

Image: Los Angeles Times Front page April 9, 2009

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