“…on Jazz And Other Matters,” it says up there on the masthead, or whatever a masthead is called in blogese. You may have noticed that the other matters occasionally include journalism. News is where I came from, and my conviction is as strong as ever that a free flow of information through the news is essential to the survival of the democracy. The flow can be impeded as easily—perhaps more easily—from inside news organizations than from outside.
Increasing fiscal pressures on newspapers and traditional broadcast journalism companies are forcing them to look for ways to increase revenue in order to survive. Deep staff cuts are a cost-cutting method at nearly all major newspapers, including the Boston Globe, the Knight-Ridder papers, the papers of the Tribune Company and at The New York Times, which is about to make a big reduction in manpower.
Another way to increase revenue and profitability to stockholders is to make the newspaper more attractive to advertisers. It must be tempting, if you own a newspaper, to break down the traditional separation between the news side of the paper and the advertising department. There are plenty of advertisers eager for credibility they think will come from a more direct connection with news content, and there are plenty of good reasons why a breakdown of separation is a bad idea for a news organization.
In a recent column, Byron Calame of The New York Times wrote about why it’s a bad idea. Calame retired after years as the number-two man on the news side at The Wall Street Journal and contracted with The Times to be its ombudsman—the paper’s independent in-house monitor and critic of news practice. Here is some of what he wrote:
Why is the line between news and advertising so important? I hold to the traditional view, that readers trust a paper more when there’s a clear separation. Advertisers are attracted to readers who trust what’s in the news columns. And the resulting revenue enables the newspaper to keep providing high-quality journalism.
Advertising, of course, is the major source of revenue for newspapers. Although The Times doesn’t break out the numbers, advertising appears to account for about twice as much revenue as circulation does.
The sky isn’t falling at The Times. But I see a few worrisome indications that advertisers are being allowed to tap into the credibility of the news columns in ways that slip over the line.
To read Barney Calame’s entire column, click here. His warning is important for The New York Times and for the print and broadcast news business at large. It is important for all citizens, regardless of whether they are disenchanted with the performance of news organizations. If you have thoughts about it one way or the other, please share them with your fellow Rifftides readers. You will find the e-mail address in the right-hand column.
If you wonder why a jazz guy is addressing an issue like this one, see “About Rifftides” at the top of the right column.