Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reporter Pimps for Advertisers: The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

At reputable newspapers, a wall separates advertising and editorial. Reporters don't tout, advocate, recommend or pump for advertisers -- no matter what. Ethical publishers don't barter ad revenues for good-news stories.

That wall has come tumbling down at the Charlotte Sun. Joe Gallimore and four other men who need a job from Publisher David Dunn-Rankin have been awarded the business page to pimp for regular advertisers. So far, it's been a banner for a pizza parlor where the writer likes to eat and a hair shop where he likes to get his hair cut. Today, it's a chiropractor and an antiques dealer who buy their ads from the annual rate sheet.

"If you are ever in need of great chiropractic care, I suggest the Kirschner Chiropractic and Wellness Centre," writes the former grocery-clerk-now-officially-a-real-newsman. And just in case a reader's back hurts too badly to look up the phone number, Gallimore uses the news column to give it, along with directions to the front door. In case readers miss the message, Gallimore describes the bone-cracker's services and then reports: "Just typing that paragraph felt soothing and peaceful."

After leaving the chiro's office, Gallimore trots over to the antique-store district to pimp for a man he fondly calls "the ambassador," a dealer who buys regular advertising. The favor is returned by awarding the same dealer regular access to the news hole to write stories ads loosely disguised as consumer advice from the world of art and antiques. But just in case readers haven't caught how important this advertiser is to the newspaper, Gallimore today reports "Cherry Hill is a visually stimulating, high comfort level store that offers up a larger assortment of merchanise, styles and prices. ... do yourself a favor and contact him ..."

It's a sad, sad day for newspapering in Southwest Florida -- and Dunn-Rankin is proud of it ...

"There are many wonderful local merchants with success stories to tell." (Translation: There are many wonderful local merchants with enough money to advertise in my newspaper.)
"We want to do a better job of telling those success stories." (Translation: Those pesky J-school grads can't remember to give out a big advertiser's Web-site address and telephone number or properly list every service and praise the merchandise.)
"I don't know of any other paper in the country which has made that commitment to local business." (David: That's because it's unethical to trade your Pultizer Prize Finalist's neutrality and objectivity for cash and contracts. Duh.)

1 comment:

  1. We saw it comingThu Jan 17, 11:31:00 AM

    The Sun's layoff of 50 pretty much explains this situation. Saddest thing is, Dunn-Rankin will keep his sailboat and yacht-club membership; his kids still have their jobs. But what they're doing to journalism is sad. The paper never was especially good -- as you point out so accurately -- and that was their doing -- kiss the advertisers instead of watchdog the government. Sad day for the town and all of us, though.