Critical Thinking: Do The New York Times Open Page 1 Meetings Compromise Journalistic Ethics?

By: Adreana Young

Jonathan Capriel

According to a Digiday article, the New York Times invites advertisers and “various types of outsiders” to observe its Page One meetings. Do you think this compromises journalistic ethics, or is it an effective way to build stronger relationships with advertisers?

Jonathan Capriel, 26, junior, The University of Memphis (Tennessee)
Capriel is a reporter at the University of Memphis’ campus newspaper, The Daily Helmsman. He has lived most of his life in the Bluff City with his three dogs, two cats and other family members. He’s also a middle child.

I’d like to imagine that The New York Times would warmly escort advertisers into the Page One meetings, but if an adman speaks, the Times editors would quickly escort the advertisers out. But that may not be the case.

The reality is that the Times has spent the last few years reevaluating its relationship with the Internet and advertisers. Recently, the Times shifted the focus of its Page One meeting from what stories would get on A1 to what stories would get the best online presence. No doubt this is a way for the organizations to keep up with online-first media groups who are often much cozier with advertisers.

While sponsored content created by media organizations wasn’t new, it surprised many when the Times, the standard bearer in the eyes of so many, created T Brand Studio—an in-house advertising content producer.

These news-like ads were more widely viewed than content provided by advertisers in a traditional format and were read more often than some of the Times’ own editorial content, the company said. They later dialed back on that statement saying it was an “unfair comparison.” But I accepted this change as a way for the organizations to stay competitive. Plus each ad displays a “Paid Post” banner.

However, allowing advertisers into editorial meetings seems like a slippery slope moment. Can the Times promise readers that editors won’t feel pressure to bury a story about third-world sneaker factory conditions if Nike is present? Will admen be told to shut up if they try to speak? I hope so. Only time will tell.

Sandra Tolliver, 56, deputy managing editor for news, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Tribune-Review
Tolliver is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s deputy managing editor for news. She directs the metro and business desks, and oversees the company’s 17 weekly newspapers. She joined the Tribune in 2004. In addition to daily newspapers, she has worked as a TV reporter and news director, correspondent for United Press International, city editor for Pittsburgh’s historic black weekly newspaper, and in government and corporate public relations.

 

Among the visitors to our newsroom, none have been an advertiser. None have asked.

 

We’ve opened our news meetings to students, foreign journalists, job candidates, once even to a politician, who said later he had not known the thoughtfulness and debate that went into our decision-making.

Doing so helps us to be transparent as a news organization and to maintain relationships with others.

Outsiders often don’t understand how we work, or why we cover what we do. And we might learn something: People connected to their communities can bring perspective that helps inform or shape how we tell a story. There is a downside: Staffers may hesitate to share an important perspective on controversial topics to be politically correct, or out of concern about what an outsider might think.

Our journalists are well aware of the division between the news and business departments, and that we must be able to produce stories without interference or conflicts of interest. We make no promises to advertisers or agencies. We could keep an exclusive story off the budget if we had a visitor.

Yet we editors know the value of cooperating with our business staff to the extent that we share a common goal of attracting readers and selling our product. We’ve invited our company president, board chairman and, once or twice, an advertising rep to observe planning meetings, to give them an understanding of what they’re marketing.

As newspapers struggle to remain the forum for hard-hitting, accurate, detailed journalism, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. An advertiser might be one’s neighbor or friend. Does he or she know why it’s important to read newspapers?

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Published: July 9, 2015

One thought on “Critical Thinking: Do The New York Times Open Page 1 Meetings Compromise Journalistic Ethics?

  • July 9, 2015 at 11:07 pm
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    Advertisers (or potential ones) should NOT be there. If the NYT or any paper’s editorial content doesn’t historically make dedication to “fairness,” in terms of subject matter and presentation, patently clear and thus preclude any reasonable questioning thereof, then an internal overhaul is needed. Having the paper’s advertising manager/director present at P1 meetings, I would think, would be a good thing – allowing them to be both advertisers’ surrogate, in terms of potential outside perspective the editorial staff might not immediately see, and to be “in the loop,” so as to informatively, sincerely, and authoritatively be able to represent and vouch for the internal process to any advertiser with questions or concerns.

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