As expected, Sunday's four-page advertorial section for "The Soloist" in the Los Angeles Times is being talked about as the second act of the controversy that began with last week's front-page mock story plugging NBC's "Southland" — and as "the defining battle of the waning days of newsprint."
The New York Times discloses that the Times approached Paramount about the Soloist ad, including the participation of columnist Steve Lopez. Meanwhile, Executive Editor John Arthur tells The Wrap.com that the front-page ad was "horrible" and that "the reaction from the staff and others demonstrated that it was a mistake." Also after the jump, Variety's Anne Thompson offers a take.
* Noted: Lynne Segall, Times vice president for entertainment advertising, told The Wrap that Times Editor Russ Stanton "approved both advertorial units. The ad department in this company is not in a position nor would we ever be allowed to go out in the market to sell units like this without editorial vetting and giving us permission first." More after the jump.
Here's how the New York Times picks up on the brouhaha:
The advertisement includes an interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who wrote the book on which “The Soloist” is based. His columns profile Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless, mentally ill Los Angeles man who was once a promising musician at the Juilliard School.
A spokeswoman for Paramount Pictures, which is distributing the film, said that The Los Angeles Times approached Paramount with the idea of using the Steve Lopez tie-in to promote the film. The advertising deal included an online contest and promotional spots about the supplement that ran on KTLA, which, like The Los Angeles Times, is owned by the Tribune Company......
“You dress an ad up to look like editorial content precisely because you think it will make it more valuable,” said Geneva Overholser, director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. “Fundamentally, that’s an act of deception.”
The supplement is clearly marked as an advertising supplement, said Nancy Sullivan, a Los Angeles Times spokeswoman. The bylines have “special advertising section writer,” and the font is different from the one the newspaper uses, she said.
The Wrap interviewed Arthur:
I hadn’t seen the NBC ad before I left; I didn’t recognize how horrible it was until I saw an image of the front page later. The discussion I had was about an ad going across the right hand column and across the bottom. Before my trip I’d complained about it. I never dreamed it would be filled with news-looking content like it was.
We thought we had an agreement that when front page ads were introduced, they would only be two shapes -- one across the bottom, and one a two-column by six across.
This was a deviation from the agreement we had with advertising. But of course since then we’ve had a new publisher, a new ad director.
Variety's Anne Thompson says of the Sunday ad section, "This is so wrong. A clear separation between ad sales and editorial is essential to any serious journalistic enterprise." She goes on:
I've been hanging on to my morning coffee LAT habit, even as I recognize that the economic model of printing on newsprint and delivering papers to peoples' homes is hopelessly out of date and ecologically incorrect. Like everyone else, I do most of my reading online, and find myself questioning what I pay for the weeklies Time and Entertainment Weekly, which often seem thin and redundant. Even when they offer excellent in-depth reporting and context, many of the non-review pieces seem familiar and pre-digested. The New Yorker offers more original content, finally, and seems worth its pricey subscription, and New York Magazine is topical, visual and sharp--and boasts a website crammed with entertaining fast-read content.
The monthlies, on the other hand, seem well worth their relative low cost. I'm enjoying Wired, More, Los Angeles Magazine, even Vanity Fair.