Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spadea decision: dumb and dumber

Today’s “Yes on 66 & 67” spadea begins thus:

“This is the wrong place for a political ad . . .
But we have to correct the record. . . .”

In other words, the ends justify the means.

The spadea slippery slope just got more slippery.

And just how did this ad appear in The Oregonian? Was it, per chance, invited in the name of "fairness" following "No" spadeas earlier in the week? Was it sold at a "fairness" discount rate? (According to Oregon Media Central, the going spadea price in a non-Sunday paper is $19,750.)

I wouldn’t normally ask such impertinent questions except that the hanky-panky surrounding the whole spadea fiasco has left me deeply suspicious.

There's another reason a discount might be in order.

Just how much good will today’s "Yes" ad do at this late date? The actual news on today’s front page (which we reveal after peeling back the spadea husks) tells us that 840,000 of Oregon’s 2 million registered voters have already mailed in their ballots. Remember, the election is three days away. Given that turnout will be well short of 100 percent, a last-minute Saturday spadea doesn't have many minds left to change.

Oregonian publisher Chris Anderson's decision to allow the dueling political spadea ads has now dragged The Oregonian, its ad policy, its reporting, its editorial position and Anderson himself into the political campaign.

The “Yes on 66 & 67” ad in this week’s Willamette Week begins with the headline:

“Wondering what’s happened to the Oregonian?
You’re not alone.”

That seems like an odd opening line to introduce the issues of taxes, inequity, job preservation, “job killing,” social services etc.

Deeper into the ad, the “Yes” campaign purports to explain “what’s happened to the Oregonian.”

The answer: Last October, the ad tells us, “The Oregonian’s out-of-state corporate owners named a new publisher for the paper, N. Christian Anderson III. For 27 years Anderson helped run two of the most conservative papers in the country, the Orange County Register…and the Colorado Springs Gazette.”

The ad invites us — now that we are armed with that factoid — to decide for ourselves whether Anderson has steered The Oregonian to the Right. The thrust of the rest of the WW ad is that “The Oregonian” is out to burden the lower and middle classes.

This ad, like those of the opposite side, plays on the public's media illiteracy. The fact is that “The Oregonian” is an entire newspaper with many moving parts. The Op-Ed page and the paper’s editorials are but one part.

The problem is that Anderson has permitted political, front page-engulfing spadea ads whose content is riveted on Oregonian editorial positions. It's a toxic brew of news content, advertising and editorial opinion. The foul swill is certain to drive more and more readers away.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

More on the Spadea controversy

The web site Oregon Media Central has a solid report by Mitch Nolan on the machinations at The Oregonian regarding recent front page spadea ads opposing Measures 66 and 67.

Seems that at one point the Oregonian's ad department informed the "No" campaign's ad buyers that wrap-around spadea are off-limits to political content. It was new publisher Chris Anderson who opened the gates to essentially front-page political display ads.

What we have is the odd scenario of the the director of ad sales and marketing, Mario van Dongen, maintaining the fire wall between advertising and editorial while a publisher is tearing it down.

Oregon Media Central quotes van Dongen as opposing political spadeas because "a political ad might take advantage of the placement and make it look like it's a newspaper statement."

Exactly. Especially when the ad's content banners the paper's editorial position.

By the way, Anderson is quoted as saying he believes that if the spadea had favored the two measures, rather than opposing them, there wouldn't be such an outcry.

Perhaps, but Anderson misses the point. This is about journalistic integrity. So far, Anderson seems tone-deaf on the topic.

Note in passing: If you think this is bad, wait until the Big Money is unleashed this fall, thanks to yesterday's Supreme Court decision. Expect a plague of political spadea — and, Mr. Anderson, a mass exodus of Oregonian subscribers.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oregonian tinkers with spadea ad

This morning’s Oregonian “spadea” (the splashy half-wrap ad starting on the front page) provides graphic proof that, contrary to his "To our readers" note from Sunday, Publisher Chris Anderson has had concerns about how the huge front-page-engulfing ad appeared on Sunday.

See my earlier post HERE.

The evidence is three changes in today’s version of the ad. They are exactly the kind that only a publisher with misgivings would require of an advertiser.

The ad has been tinkered with to make it more clear that it isn’t, repeat is NOT, an Oregonian house ad for its editorial board position opposing measures 66 and 67.

The “Paid Advertising” notice at the top of the anti-measure 66 and 67 ad has been increased in type size and weight. (See side-by-side comparison above.)

That change still assumes that readers know what “Paid Advertising” means. Don’t count on it.

Some, perhaps many, might think this ad, which fits hand in glove with the paper’s editorial board position, is simply a “house” ad. That’s advertising in which the newspaper advertises itself. Could this be one of those? Such advertising presumably "costs" the paper in space that might otherwise be sold. In a sense it is “paid” for by the paper.

Readers simply don’t know enough about these distinctions, especially when the very first line of the ad reads “The Oregonian’s editorial board urges voters to VOTE NO on Measures 66 and 67.”

Whose voice is that? Sure sounds like The Oregonian’s.

Another change. The quote from the Oregonian editorial is no longer “boxed” with a color background. Now it is depicted as a torn-out clipping with a ragged “torn” border. (See above photo comparison.) Presumably the new graphic device is to indicate that the advertisers have torn out and are “using” the editorial. The earlier boxed version might have suggested collusion with the paper.

And yet another change. At the bottom of each page of today’s version is the line reading “Paid for by Oregonians against Job-Killing taxes.” On Sunday, the ID was limited to the last page.

Why these changes? Why were they needed, especially after Anderson so unequivocally defended the spadea in his Sunday note “To our readers.”

Could Anderson’s reader-blind decision-making and these unacknowledged tinkerings be signs of more trouble ahead for the beleaguered Oregonian?

Note: Several readers have written Anderson on-line to say the line between advertising and editorial content has been breached and that they are canceling their home subscriptions.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Red Flag at The Oregonian

When a newspaper publisher is compelled to explain an advertisement to readers, it should serve as a red flag that something is wrong.

In yesterday’s Oregonian, publisher Chris Anderson explained why the paper had sold space on a front-page wrapper (called a “spadea”) to a political campaign, in this case to the anti-measure 66 and 67 campaign. The ad was larded with quotes from a supportive Oregonian editorial.

A truncated version of his "To our readers" column appears HERE, along with more than 100 reader comments.

The whole "spadea" device is intrusive — by design. And, yes, I know that newspapers are in crisis and desperately need the kind of revenue this sort of sleight-of-hand advertising can produce.

Long-term, these slippery devices may simply hasten the exodus of readers. It makes matters worse when they effectively turn over the public face of The Oregonian to political advertising. Worse still, the advertising's content is the product of the Oregonian's own editorial board.

Sure, the top of the ad says "paid advertisement," but readers are utterly confused by what is and is not advertising, thanks in large measure to newspapers' blurring the lines. Take the Saturday "Autos" section, whose scant editorial content is pure puffery that leads into a section that is a blatant a vehicle for car dealer ads.

Given the spadia's appearance, content and placement, the "paid advertising" label might lead readers to assume that the ad was paid for by The Oregonian itself.

Anderson's anticipation of concerns like mine is no doubt why he felt compelled to write his "To our readers" column. If so, he failed to allay those concerns and simply alerted us to his need to try to write his way out of a deeply flawed editorial decision.

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