Wouldn’t you know Bud Kennedy would lead a Sunday fruit page? I’m sure his many enemies enjoyed that. And his many fans (including me and my wife), who probably chuckled when they saw parallels between the ads and Bud’s topic. But I digress. And I apologize for not being able to stitch together the fruit page, but at least you get the idea.
Satr I was scrubbing skillets early this morning (had to make the 9 a.m. mass) from Saturday night’s chalupa fest when my wife, who was leafing through the paper on the breakfast counter, said: “Have you seen this?”
She held up Sunday’s gawd-awful Page 2B. “When I first started reading this page,” she said, “I kept thinking, ‘How does this art go with these stories?’ ” News readers think in such shocking ways. Then it dawned on her: This page had been savaged by invasive advertising – the kind that says: To hell with news columns. We want you, reader, to focus on these oranges, limes and that apple wth a stem in your eye. I know the eye-movement studies. You can bet that apple stem stopped more than a few readers’ eye movement as did the limes and oranges. Suggested to me that space on a page is too valuable to waste on a smart-ass columnist, another murder story and yet another environment story related to “clean-coal” power plant issues. Right? Is any of that new and compelling in its effort to open windows on life? Yawner news? Wouldn’t think so, but I’d be interested to know how readership was affected by citrus fruit rolling into Bud’s space, an apple poking into the murder story and a huge orange muscling its way into the environment story.
Time was when you stayed on your side of the page, and news stayed on its side. Not anymore. News (the revenue-reduction department, as I’ve heard news content ridiculed by the bean-counters) gives it up quickly for advertising. And we know why advertising can kick news’ butt these days. The for-profit model rules. Papers are struggling to find revenue wherever and however they can find it. What’s left of the news staff doesn’t care anymore, I’d guess. Let ads invade news columns. Who cares? Staff’s more likely to have a job tomorrow. Credibility may take a kidney punch, but the place is open for business tomorrow. I understand all that.
So why am I so bothered by those invasive ads? Yes, I know that 50% of readers pick up a paper for its news content and 50% of readers pick up a paper for its ad content. That’s an old but persistent and true statistic. Question is, which side is going to take it in the bum when the revenue going gets tough? And, is that even a worthwhile question to raise?
Serious readers are going to read 2B’s thought-provoking Kennedy column and those two stories even if an apple stem’s poking them in the eye. But I’d guess that less-serious readers will get mesmerized by the fruit. “Damn, Dawnie baby. Look at how this fruit kinda jumps off the page at ya. Ain't that fun?”
God bless them for subscribing or buying a single copy instead of just going online for free, but they’ll pay less attention to the news content in a space dominated by nvasive advertising. What’s so bad about that?
Readers may not learn anything. They may not form ideas and opinions based on the news content. They will be less informed, less American. They have this Florida (California?)Orange from Mars at which to gaze and contemplate. I suppose oranges and other fruits aren’t a bad thing to think about and to give thanks for, assuming they aren’t genetically engineered fruit (or, what if they are? Anyone asking?), but perhaps it would be better for less-serious readers in this environment-challenged DFW with its toxic air to be mulling environment challenges instead of the glories of oranges, limes and apples. But if one’s fixated on fruit, to heck with juicy hard news.
Another issue for me is the compromised time readers will spend with a page. It isn’t much. It’s literally seconds. Probably less than half a minute or maybe 15 seconds with Page 2B. The more time many readers spend gawking at invasive advertising because it’s so compelling visually (and we are visual creatures and can’t help that), the less time they’ll spend with news content and whatever provocative information it could impart.
Enough already. I want to see news that respects ad columns and ads that respect news columns. That’s not happening on today’s 2B. And that’s not good. Revenue can pay diminishing returns. Invasive ads send a bad signal and a troubling perception -– the S-T’s not a serious news product, it’s just a cash cow for McClatchy.
I know the S-T news staff, and I know they’re professionals, from the executive editor on down, and they reflect the respectable motivations that journalists bring to the table. But those commendable qualities are lost on much of the public these days as the anti-media forces whack and chop at the media’s credibility every chance they get. And what’s so sad is that a chunk of the public buys into what they hear. Pages like today’s 2B are no help in preserving journalism’s credibility. It’s just all about making money, right? Unfortunately, yes. But if that’s what it takes to keep excellent journalists working, then bring on papayas and mangos. And where are the bananas and bell peppers?
But I urge people who believe that the media’s only interested in profits to take a look at Pulitzer Prize-winning efforts for the past 20 or 30 years, take a look at how less-than-prize-winning coverage keeps public officials more sensitive to the need to clean up their act, take a look at how coverage inspires community forums to discuss local concerns. Case in point: debates over the City of Fort Worth’s pension issues. Journalists keep local affairs clear and honest. As much as they can.
Of course, for newspapers, all of that happens primarily on the printed page and, yes, to some degree in cyberspace nowadays (but there you have these cursed floating ads that temporarily obscure one’s ability to read the news). My point is that anything that cripples the Fourth Estate’s ability to connect with readers needs to be addressed with mucho cajones and shown the door or laughed down Seventh Street. Ain’t gonna happen, though, I fear. The prevailing idea, it seems, is to embrace money first and First Amendment stuff maybe will follow.
The for-profit model takes out journalists' kneecaps very proficiently.
But it bothers the hell out of me when I think that oranges, limes and apples are all it takes to inflict a crippling blow on credible sources of reliable news and information. At least we haven’t seen that sort of invasiveness yet on the sports pages and the editorial/op-ed pages where J.R. Labbe, Bob Ray Sanders, Linda Campbell and Mike Norman have been spared the fruit bullying.
Thank God. Those are some of the brightest lights in this city as are Celeste Williams, Randy Galloway, Gil Lebreton and colleagues. But that’s sort of easy to understand. Thinking people, the types who read editorial/op-ed content at least, and sports fans whose passions bulldoze ads’ attempts to stop their brawls, are not low-hanging fruit who can be distracted easily. They’re not worth ad dollars unless those ads can match the passions in whose presence they presume to plop and command attention. Could happen, but those readers set the bar high – way too high for advertising of Madmen’s ilk. And I love that. Show me an ad that can rivet attnetion on an op-ed or sports page, and I'll show you an ad that's damn genius stuff.
Make those ad/pr people work their butts off -- just like news staff does. Fight like hell over the space on news pages. Knock heads. You good enough to get in that fight? Yes? No?
Bottom line: Make ads work harder in their space. Don’t invade news columns. They need to be strong enough not to coattail on news' muscle. After all, news organization’s credibility gives ads their value. Yes? If you don't agree, you're not much of ad/pr person. If you do agree, you need to tell the S-T to quit selling its space on the (credibility) cheap.
What do you think? Your comments are welcome.