The news: that’s a wrap

Posted: June 6, 2013 in Bermuda, media
Tags: , , ,

Judging from the many comments, phone calls, emails and texts I’ve had about my recent post on editorial independence, a lot of people share my concerns. Today’s Royal Gazette is another reason to be concerned.

RG-wrap

Here’s the news … but first a really annoying word from our sponsor.

It features what the industry calls a “wrap” – advertising that masks part or all of the front page. The Gazette certainly isn’t the first paper to do this and it won’t, sadly, be the last. Wraps, which are lucrative revenue earners for cash-strapped newspapers, are controversially creeping across many of the world’s newspapers.

The Daily Express in the UK took a lot of flak in 2009 when it obscured coverage of Barack Obama’s historic inauguration with a four-page wrap marking the first birthday of the Fiat 500. Ditto The Guardian, when it carried its first wrap last year for a phone company. In 2010, an appalling wrap for the Johnny Depp film Alice In Wonderland mimicked the front page of the LA Times.

Newspapers seem to be returning to the 18th and 19th century, when the front pages of many leading publications were completely full of ads. As journalism and professional reporting became more established, news content grew and became the main driver of circulation. The front page became sacrosanct and defended by editors and owners alike against front-page ads of any kind.

LA Times: re-defining the front page "mock up".

LA Times: re-defining the term “front page mock up”.

A few years ago, Gene Roberts, a former managing editor of the New York Times and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the American Journalism Review that front-page ads were another in a series of industry mistakes triggered by short-term thinking. “It’s one more in this kind of death by a thousand cuts that the newspaper business seems to be administering to itself. In the long run, the big necessity is to get and maintain readers, and I think without question that front-page ads work against readership.”

Every advertiser naturally wants to be on the front page because it’s the most-read page in a newspaper. Although my company plans and produces advertising, I never recommend wraparounds and dissuade clients from doing so. Why? Because I believe they are counter-productive and not worth the premium rates that media organisations charge. Journalists and editors naturally hate them and readers generally resent them in the same way they resent ads that often pop-up when you load a web page. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who immediately rips off the wrap and chucks it in the nearest trash bin.

I’m not sure if today’s half-page wrap is a first for the Gazette but we’ll be seeing more and you just know that a full page wrap won’t be far behind.

I hope that the Gazette resists this trend and is able to find an alternative revenue stream for many of the same reasons that I stated the other day. When advertising becomes the front page, it tells readers that the news is not important. It devalues the very reason that newspapers exist for in the first place and further blurs the line between news and business interests.

Wraps are part of a slippery slope that turns a newspaper into an advertising free-sheet. And if newspaper owners and advertisers risk alienating the very people they are trying to attract, then what’s the point?

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