Fake news story runs as A1 ad in L.A. Times

Many journalists, ad people — and readers — are angry at the publisher of the L.A. Times for agreeing to run an ad for NBC’s new show “Southland” that is a fake news story in column one on the front page.

Page One ads are old news, but ones that masquerade as news stories on Page One — even if in a different font — generally are frowned upon, because they might confuse readers.

The L.A. Times front page ad is here. Check it out.

I’ve dealt with this first hand for decades: At CNET, advertisers wanted to run the intrusive flash ads, or at newspapers, they wanted to run the fake news stories as ads. In both cases, I always argued for clear labeling.

I also felt ad people vastly underpriced their ads for such premium space in order to close a deal (and receive a commission). Except for the top sales people at tech companies, for example, too many ad people are trained as “order takers.”

I understand the business side of publishing and respect it. After all, it’s better to have some ads than none at all — and no newspaper.

But it’s not that hard to finesse a compromise if you put your mind to it. Very few advertisers will walk away; they just like to push the envelope.

Trouble is, many publishers are in a near panic nowadays — for their paper and their own careers. The guy at the L.A. Times forgot the only real capital that newspapers have left: Your credibility with your readers.

The fallout is a pragmatic one, not just a principled one: You risk losing even more readers. Lower circulation translates into lower print ad rates, the only moneymakers that newspapers have left.

I also find it ironic that the ads creating the most controversy, this one as well as one in the New York Times, are from the broadcast networks, NBC and CBS. They’re even worse off than newspapers.

It’s like throwing an anvil on a deflating rubber raft: the whole thing just sinks faster.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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