Monday, January 5, 2009

Ads on the front page?!? The horror... The horror...

Okay, the sky has officially fallen. Or the old gray lady has hit the deck, anyway. The New York Times published its first across-the-bottom front page ad this morning.

Everything in my journalism DNA wants to scream out against this incursion of consumerism on sacred news space. For years, I quietly cheered editors at my paper and elsewhere who bragged about fending off money-grubbing advertising managers who came begging each year for the chance to sell ads on section fronts. But now, with everybody hemoraging cash, the money grubbers are increasingly winning those fights.

And you know what? It's not the end of the world.

Print is increasingly our secondary product, anyway. Another ad, no matter where it appears, is not the enemy. A general lack of advertising will be our undoing, if anything.

The thing to be careful about is that we get additional revenue by taking the plunge. It seems like a no-brainer, but the situation might be more complicated than it appears.

In a recession, there's a chance that if we open new space on the front, some existing advertisers will merely move from the inside to a better position. Incremental revenue gains might be small -- or nonexistent -- as we struggle to keep the big advertisers we have now in the fold.

In that case, we've given away a valuable piece of property and gained little in return. So it's the business-side guys, rather than the editors, who will need to know when to say "no" in the months ahead. Because we all know, in the wake of the Times' decision, pressure will be on everybody else to start offering the same perks before long.

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