Getting some more details on the debate inside the Los Angeles Times about today's front page ad for NBC. Newsroom sources say that as of Tuesday, publisher Eddy Hartenstein had OK'd giving over all of column six — the right-hand column where the day's lede story runs — to NBC. That ad would have run the whole length of the most valuable news column, then across the bottom of the page in a reverse L. Strenuous objections from newsroom leaders were reportedly joined by some key ad department people, who thought that soiling the LAT brand in such an unprecedented way would do more harm than good to the bottom line.
As of Tuesday night, editors were told that Hartenstein had relented and the ad was cancelled. Some then were surprised when it came back last night, scaled down and moved to the left column, or column one. Even then, there was a last-minute issue: the ad is wider than the usual Times column, so it slops over into the "gutter" and lacks the usual thin lines separating ads from news. An editor:
It was sold this way, and Russ [Editor Russ Stanton] could not do anything about it. So our standard design method of ruling off ads from editorial could not be done. Most readers could care less, but our design principles were violated.
Also, the Business section scrambled late last night to "downplay an NBC story because of fears that readers might link our NBC coverage to the paid ad on A1," a Times insider says. I'd love to have Hartenstein discuss his decision, since more creative A1 ads appear to be the wave of the future, but his flack is forbidden to talk to LA Observed. Meanwhile, rumors in the Times building are more rampant than usual: about possible ads above the front-page nameplate, further sale speculation and Hartenstein supposedly entertaining the notion that he could take over as editor too.
* Reuters blog: Dozens of Times staffers have signed a petition to Hartenstein protesting the move. "This place already had horrible morale problems with decimating layoffs, but now to have our publisher whore out the front page is more than we can stand,” one editorial staff member told Reuters. “It blurs the line between paid content and content that our reporters are producing.”
Variety's Brian Lowry: "Absurdly cheesy and amateurish. Why splash an ad on the front page for a classy, high-quality drama that half looks like one of those cut-rate products offering a cure for erectile dysfunction?"
LAT sells front page for 'Southland'