Ad Departments Can Help Us Save Journalism

When Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote the first edition of Elements of Journalism in 2001, the Staples Center controversy at the Los Angeles Times was still quite fresh, and journalists around the country were perhaps feeling even more protective of the proverbial wall between the editorial and business sides of news organizations.

However, Kovach and Rosenstiel (my former bosses at the Committee of Concerned Journalists) argued that this controversy actually revealed the poverty of the wall metaphor in actual practice. Instead, they argued powerfully that isolation served nobody very well because we are all on the same side.

Great journalism from a credible source sells ads.  Ads make great journalism possible. Anything that might undermine the trust of readers and viewers hurts us both. So it goes.

My observations at metropolitan daily newspapers lead me to believe that we are poised right at the cusp of developing a more productive relationship between business and editorial departments, but workplace routines and traditions – especially those that are well-intentioned and rooted in core values, even if  they don’t ultimately serve those core values very well — are hard to break down.

Reporters and editors want to know – heck, are desperate to know — more about their online readers’ habits and desires.  Not so that they can pander to them or sell them widgets, but so they can create multimedia journalism that will prove relevant and serve their needs as democratic citizens.  In many cases, a wealth of information about readers just sits on another floor of the building where it is never shared.  This serves nobody very well.

I’m behind on my blogging, but I wanted to be sure to highlight what I thought was a particularly important recent post relevant to this subject on Online Journalism Blog, “10 ways that ad sales people can save journalism” (thanks to Amy Gahran and E-Media Tidbits for the link.) It’s a British blog, but the lessons certainly seem relevant to U.S. papers.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not sure how many people realize how much organizational change has been forced upon advertising departments — often when we think about media change we think about news folks now coping with 24-7 deadlines and the need to produce multimedia. But the changes faced by ad folks are possibly just as disruptive. Newspapers were so fabulously successful for so long that many ad sales people simply had to answer the phone and take orders, top advertising executives at a metro daily told me.

Small advertisers who are now a vital source of revenue on the Web used to have no chance at affording print ad space and therefore aren’t even thinking about advertising with the local daily. This requires business managers to completely retrain staffers to aggressively sell their porfolio and go out into the business community to develop new relationships, an entirely different skill set and perhaps more importantly, mindset than they’ve ever had before. Sweeping organizational change is difficult and most of all, often time-consuming — but certainly never more vital.

4 Comments

Filed under Business of News, Real Live Changing Newsrooms

4 responses to “Ad Departments Can Help Us Save Journalism

  1. Pingback:   links for 2008-09-13 — contentious.com

  2. Sarah Bolton

    So, call it grad school brain freeze, but I totally didn’t get that this was your blog until after I had read a couple posts. And then I saw something about the University of Memphis. And it hit me.

    I enjoyed your posts. In Media Writing tonight, we were talking about the changes that the news industry is going through. It seems like some people are dismayed about all the changes, but I find it exhilarating. All this change, growth, restructuring, and new focus on the Internet is pretty exciting! And it’s great to be on the cutting edge of all of this.

  3. changingnewsroom

    Thanks, Sarah. I agree that it’s a very exciting time. My only hope is that we can preserve jobs for all the experienced and dedicated folks who work at “old media” and get them gainfully employed in the new world.

    It’s especially a good time to be in J-school I think – you are no longer per se just learning a set of skills that profs have practiced successfully in the past, but you are in vanguard of actually creating what the future will be.

  4. JG

    It’s all about the Long Tail — news organizations have to be willing to cobble together hundreds of little advertisers instead of chasing the national-ad golden goose. Those days have passed. Some are learning (e.g. the Lawrence Journal-World), but I wonder if the big publicly held chains will be patient enough to develop such an advertising base…

    The pace of layoffs makes me think not.

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