By: David Noack
Paper moves ‘adult’ ads from sports to classifieds
In a practice amounting to the newspaper equivalent of a brown paper wrapper, the Star Tribune has moved so-called “adult” advertisements, featuring sexually oriented nightclubs and videos, from the sports section to the classifieds section.
The June decision by the Minneapolis-based McClatchy Newspapers property was sparked by reader concerns that children and teen-agers could easily see the adult ads while checking the box scores from last night’s games.
The move by the Star Tribune does not mark the first time a newspaper has tried to segregate or even ban adult ads. Some papers also restrict the kind of language that can be used in the ads.
Last December, the Los Angeles Times banned adult advertising from establishments whose main business is to provide an overtly sexual service or experience.
Thomas Mohr, senior vice president for marketing and sales at the Star Tribune, says he doesn’t feel moving the ads to the classifieds section will lead to other ads getting the same treatment.
“We will accept adult advertising. If we had banned these ads, I think it would have been hard to differentiate between our handling of adult ads and ads in other controversial categories. By allowing these ads to run, albeit [in] classified, I think we have found a balanced solution to the issue,” says Mohr.
He says in 1998 the paper received $250,000 in revenue from adult ads, but he expects that to fall off sharply. He’s not sure how many complaints the paper has received over the years.
Shelby Gregorich, the paper’s advertising coordinator, says that even though the ads are in the classifieds section, advertisers can run display classified ads “depending on how much they’d be interested in spending.” Gregorich adds that, prior to moving the ads to the classifieds section, the paper regulated the content of the ads. She says the paper looked at putting the ads elsewhere but probably would have received complaints no matter where they were placed.
In a column explaining the new policy to readers, editor Tim McGuire says that, while he is uncomfortable with the adult ads, these kinds of businesses are legally protected.
“As a company, we find it difficult to defend our right to print controversial things about government or business or important political processes if then we turn around and sully those First Amendment rights with decisions to refuse advertising on legal but controversial grounds,” McGuire writes in his column.
Don Root, vice president of advertising at the Providence (R.I.) Journal, says the paper decided to control the content of adult ads in 1997 because they were becoming increasingly more explicit.
“We continue to run them in the back of our sports sections but have put in some copy restrictions. For example, we don’t allow any photos of the entertainers other than head shots [and] we don’t let any of the ads refer to the human anatomy,” says Root.
He says the paper won’t run the names of entertainers that are sexual in nature or have double meanings. It also bans such phrases as “nude room” and “table dancing.”
“The ads have been toned down considerably. The complaints [from readers] have virtually stopped, and we’re down in advertising space,” says Root.
He says the paper lost about 30% in revenue from adult advertisers once the content policy went into effect. He declined to say how much money it made previously.
Root says they also screen personal or dating ads, which at times include suggestive or explicit language.
Lynn Sroufe, advertising sales manager for Fort Wayne Newspapers in Indiana, the joint operating agency for The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, says it adopted a content-restriction policy last year.
First Amendment lawyer Rex Heinke says the courts have backed newspapers’ right to refuse or alter the content of ads.
Gene Grant, advertising director at The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, says the paper does not accept massage parlor and 900 number ads.
“We censor the adult ads shamelessly, but still have numerous reader complaints. They currently run on the sports agate page, but we are researching solutions as well. ? Since they are unlicensed or unregulated, we do not accept 900-number or massage-parlor advertising,” says Grant.
Dwight Brown, vice president of advertising at the Houston Chronicle, says the paper placed adult ads in the classifieds section three years ago. “The reason was simple: People who want to see the ads will find them,” says Brown, who also is president of the Newspaper Association of America’s Display Federation.
Responding to reader concerns, newspapers around the nation adopt new “adult” ad policies.
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(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 7, 1999) [Caption]