What follows is an exchange I’ve had with the senior editorial leadership at the Montreal Gazette. It all started with as outrageous an example of pandering to an advertiser as I’ve ever seen. Read my initial email below and the sequels from and to the newspaper’s Managing Editor:
I’ve been a loyal print (and digital as well, more recently) subscriber for at least 30 years. But every day, I come closer to kicking The Gazette to the curb and getting my local news elsewhere. It seems as if you’re hell-bent on pissing print subscribers off…perhaps it’s part of a concerted strategy to get out of the print edition.
It started with those annoying split page advertisements that now form the core of the Front-page on most days. But the latest foray down the slippery slope of confusing advertising with news is the full-page “Section Z” facade of today’s HOMEFRONT featuring the Kaufman clan. No split page, no subtle “Advertisement” warning; just an outright and blatant effort to present this as a valid news story. It was only upon turning the page that I saw the “real” Homefront page.
It’s bad enough that 90% of what passes as lifestyle news and information has the distinct rasp of PR and product placement, but surely The Gazette doesn’t have to engage in such blatant acts of deception to earn an advertising buck. But, maybe I’m wrong and that is what it has all come down to.
I think you have finally helped me “get it” when my kids (28 and 30) tell me they no longer read newspapers because they’re just enormous ads disguised as news.
Response from the Managing Editor:
“You are absolutely right — the advertising wrap on the Home Front section this week had too many similarities to an editorial story. We’ve taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I apologize that it slipped through our usual safeguards. On the half-page wraps we sometimes have on the front section of the paper, I sympathize with your dislike of them. Unfortunately, with advertisers now spreading their spending over so many platforms – websites and mobile devices as well as the traditional print, TV and radio — the amount supporting the print paper is dropping, and we are trying to make up some of it with these half-page wraps which are clearly advertising.
We need the advertising money to sustain what is still, I believe, a very good package of daily journalism – journalism with integrity. We put a lot of time, for example, into our coverage of Montreal’s corruption scandals and have been the source over the past several years of many investigative stories uncovering serious infractions and practices. We dedicate good reporters to other civic issues and institutions in health, education, and justice. And we have authoritative coverage in other areas like film, music, theatre, food, fashion, real estate, personal finance, hockey and football.
I do appreciate that advertising can sometimes be annoying, and I apologize again that this week’s Home Front wrap didn’t meet our standards. But we do need advertising revenue to cover the bulk of our journalistic costs. I appreciate you taking the time to tell us your concerns. Don’t hesitate to get back to me if you have other questions or comments.”
INTERPRETATION: Yes it’s wrong….but we need the money
My final reply:
“Thanks for your prompt response. I do sympathize and understand the financial background and the need for creative new advertising “twists”; print media is certainly going through a tough time.
Nevertheless as a psychologist, I also tend to introspect when I have such a violent gut reaction as I did yesterday, and to project that experience to what might be happening among other Gazette customers. I did cancel my 30 year subscription as a result. It was frankly the straw that broke the camel’s back. The constant encroachment of cleverly and deceptively disguised advertising into the newspaper and our daily lives in general, is scandalous.
As consumers, we see graft and corruption at every turn. The Olympics (which my ancestors began) are so profoundly contaminated with doping and other scandals that they are unwatchable because they are un-believable. It is ironic that two of the senators currently in the ethical spotlight (Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin) were both esteemed members of the journalistic elite who revelled and built careers on exposing scandal! I wonder how many have caught the irony in that? Corruption is certainly a slippery slope…even for journalists, it seems.
Finding a reliable source of information and balanced truth is becoming near impossible.
All this to say that you are already treading a very thin ethical line with these advertising and PR shenanigans. Astute readers may and will begin to paint the entire newspaper with an unethical brush, despite the “journalism with integrity” to which you refer. I’m not sure most people are sophisticated enough to make that distinction…I certainly am not! The current Homefront page issue raises the question as to who’s supposed to be catching this stuff and why didn’t they? If they miss this, what else are they turning a blind eye to? And what does it say about the character and integrity of the people who think up this nonsense?
Certainly, I discussed this event with a half-dozen of my friends, who were all equally miffed and dismayed at the trend. You may well say that you can’t afford not to do this type of advertising. That may be short sighted. I think you can’t afford to do it for the long term. But perhaps, the die is already cast and it’s just a matter of time….
Best regards, etc.