A Glimpse of Light on the Dark Side

Does cooperation between the news side and the business side compromise integrity?

Robert Price Jour. 481

As the journalism world is forced to walk the plank, news outlets fight to
stay afloat using questionable practices. Even from a year ago, the journalism is dead rhetoric at the University of Montana school of journalism has morphed. This is the case throughout the country. Journalism is not dead; it is taking on a new face, a face that in many aspects may be unrecognizable from just a few years ago. Journalism schools on the forefront of the revolution are taking on a new approach. The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism created Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and the nation s first Master of Arts degree in Entrepreneurial Journalism. "At The Tow Foundation, we became concerned about the fate of print journalism in the digital age and the impact of its decline on the health of our democracy," stated Executive Director Emily Tow Jackson in a press release announcing the new degree. Here at the University of Montana School of journalism we also have been offered a glimpse at the dark side of the industry. This has been done through freelance classes over viewing the business side of journalism as well as discussions in ethics classes. The New York Times is a corporation and sells a product. The product is audience. They don t make money when you buy the newspaper. (Chomsky). More and more media outlets are using controversial polices to keep their advertising dollars flowing and readership up. These practices include publishing more opinion

and less fact, using celebrity gossip, tagging stories with hot topics, contextual ads, and ads being placed where you would once see hard news, or advertorials. On March 5, 2010 the LA times ran a controversial ad on the front page. The wrap-around ad showed an image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in the film Alice in Wonderland. The wrap-around ad overlaid the traditional front page drawing criticism from the journalism community yet generating several hundred thousand dollars. (New York Times) This was not the first time the LA times has caused an uproar. In April 2009 the LA Times ran an ad on the front page that emulated a news article. The ad was for NBC s show Southland and with a headline that read "Southland's Rookie Hero." Due to the financial difficulties many newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Times, are facing they have offered front-page ads in an effort to attract advertisers. Many journalist cried fowl saying that reader may confuse it for a news story, more the 100 members of the LA Times staff signed a petition denouncing it. NBC Adam Stotsky, said the paper did not intend to fool readers, pointing out that the ad font differs from the front-page font and includes the NBC logo. I am more disheartened by the fake article then the wrap around ad. I find them both to be tacky, yet see serious issue in keeping the integrity of the paper running fake ads. Until recently the print journalism world had a wall separating the news and the business of news. According to the book Knightfall by Davis Buzz Merritt, there were separate sets of elevators for newsroom people and businesspeople at the Chicago Tribune forming a wall to keep the integrity of the paper in the 1970 s. The problem in Merritt s view is news people are invariably outnumbered by

business-side people, and they are also rhetorically outgunned because the business people are dealing in dollars and cents and the news people are dealing in a philosophical concept that, too often, business people either do not understand or do not support. On his blog BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at CUNY argues, Those who disdain business and sales will perish just like the dinosaurs who once employed them. Jarvis believes that, only by educating journalist about the business side, can the wall of integrity be upheld. Both sides have great augments, yet if the new age of journalism is as open as everyone perceives, many journalists leaving the education incubator may have to start their own publication in order to put food on the table. I was surprised when freelance photographer, Jerry Redfern asked the class if anyone had thought about starting their own publication and no one responded. The market for such entrepreneurs is comparable to the wild west . In Merritt s business model one would have to employ a marketing agent to do the dirty work. When starting a small publication this model may be impossible. Marc Reeves, editor of The Birmingham Post, summed it up in a speech titled Speaking truth to power, It is also the tendency of too many journalists to leave business issues to the money men and the management . The sooner more of them get down and dirty in the guts of what can turn a small idea into a successful business, then I think we ll have a lot more answers to the question: where is news journalism headed? The answer may be in the structure of new age journalism curriculums

offered in our university systems. Many of the gradates coming into the collapse of traditional journalism will be well versed in the ethical backbone of journalism yet will be oblivious to how to address business ethical issues and where to draw certain lines. This as a whole could lead to a collapse of journalism ethics and the demise of the profession itself. The reality today is that we do not live in an era where we can live on one side of the wall. We will need to be innovative and find our own way because after all we are the stewards of our destiny. Without a platform or model the profession has the potential to fall in to the abyss. Contextual advertising has become a staple in my social media sites such as Facebook. The implications that a computer program picks out key words in a news story and places an ad on the page it is running has integrity issues. The ad may be placed next to a tragic story presenting the publication as insensitive resulting in a loss of readership. ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein wrote investigative pieces on the financial industry. NPR then took the pieces and produced short music videos with a group the Gregory brothers using auto tuning. The video now has 1,241,921 views on YouTube generating thousands of hits on the story. This is a great example of how to use innovation to sell advertisements. I m not sold on the corny anecdotes of the video but it worked. Another case comes from Esquire s augmented reality issue, where the paper magazine allows you to interact on the Internet creating an incentive to purchase the magazine instead browsing the online content for free. Discussing these issues and practices as well as being on the frontlines of innovation in the university system will allow deep ethical roots to anchor our profession. The

future of journalism is not yet here but we can see light on the horizon. It will be a difficult road with many gray areas. We will need to stick to our guns offering pure undiluted journalism with ethical remedies to today s financial ailments creating an opportunity to lay a foundation during this overhaul that has the potential to set the tone for many years to come.

Works Cited

Merritt, D (2005) Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy at Risk. AMACOM Noam Chomsky, What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream, Z Magazine, June 1997. New Programs In Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY. Knightfoundation Sep. 20, 2010 A Cover Ad That Mimics a Newspaper s Front Page. New York Times.March 5, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/business/media/06paper.html?_r=1 Journalism s leaky condom. BuzzMachine. October 8th, 2010 http://www.buzzmachine.com/2010/10/08/journalisms-leaky-condom/ Speaking the truth to power: my speech to the CBI. 6.6.10 http://marcreeves.blogspot.com/2010/06/speaking-truth-to-power-my-speechto.html

Questions for the class: Is it ethical to use gimmicks such as videos to generate traffic to your story? Does this video compromise the hard news story, and NPR itself? Was it ethical for LA times to run an ad on the front-page that looked like a news story? What if the ad saved your job? Do you think running the Alice wrap around ad hurts the integrity of the LA Times? Which ad is more damaging to the LA times integrity? What are your concerns after watching the video on contextual advertising? Can you think of any ethical or integrity issues with Esquire s augmented reality issue?

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