By Steve Outing
No doubt you’ve heard the “big” news that the New York Times has added an advertising spot on the front page of its print edition. Shocking, eh? The New York Post in covering the news says in a graphic accompanying its story, “New York Times Publisher Arthur ‘Pinch’ Sulzberger is smashing the paper of record’s vaunted Chinese wall between news and advertising by peddling front-page space.”
Puleeze. First, kudos for NYT making a move that might bring in some badly needed serious money to its legacy business. Second, plenty of other papers do front page ads (including in the U.S., USA Today and the Wall Street Journal), though it’s more common outside the U.S. I don’t believe for a second that ads on the front page will have any effect on editorial content. The worst that can happen is some embarrassing juxtaposition of a page 1 ad for a company that’s covered on the front page for some wrongdoing. But I suspect the Times’ editorial and ad departments are both plenty smart enough to avoid that.
My point in writing this item is merely to remark on what a big deal some folks are making about this move. Unfortunately, this kind of move (“OMG! Ads on the front page!”) passes for radical innovation in much of the newspaper industry. Compared to innovation in the online and mobile communications worlds, this is just a tweak. Compared to the kind of bold innovation that newspaper companies will need to make to survive in 2009 and beyond, ads on the front page — even of the New York Times — is not even worth a raised eyebrow.
I sincerely hope we’ll see so much newspaper-industry innovation in 2009 that in year-end wrap-up stories, this will barely merit mention.