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LA Times’ wise decision to allow Front Page ads overrides foolish journalism dogma on “independence” 7/15/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Front page ads, LA Times.
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It didn’t take long for new owner Sam Zell to instill some much-needed business and common sense into the LA Times, which despite internal resistance will now allow ads on its Front Page — the most viewed and advertiser-valued page in the paper (see Jeff Jarvis). Doesn’t this make you wonder how the Front Page came to be thought of as so sacrosanct that it must not be despoiled with ads? To understand this is to understand the heady, self-aggrandizing dogmas of today’s Journalism and the contempt in which it has held its advertisers.

The idea of the ad-less Front Page is rooted in the cultish ideas of modern journalism’s father, Walter Lippmann, who envisioned reporters as “fearless men of science” whose job was to provide a pure stream of truth to the public — a stream that must never be contaminated. Sorry, Mr. Advertiser — you are a potential contaminant, trying to corrupt the news to favor your product or service. But don’t feel bad, because we are all contaminants according to this dogma. For instance, there’s the journalists’ own employers — those pesky suits, like Sam Zell — who might demand that the stories be tailored to help the paper stay in business and make a profit. And perhaps worst of all, there’s the readers, who would have journalists distort the truth to cater to their low-brow tastes and appetite for sensationalism — the dogma requires that journalists be independent of the influence of that mob.

So, a Front Page without ads was an assurance that journalists were “independent,” not associating with the likes of sleazy advertisers who would try to distort the truth. But, Zell seems to understand that maybe it’s not such a bad idea to hang with advertisers. After all, it’s pretty difficult to survive while being independent of their money.

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