Detroit Newspaper Exec Defends Selling Page One to Advertiser

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By: Jennifer Saba

Detroit Newspapers claims its unusual move to turn Page One into an advertisement has been fairly well received, according to Henry S. Ford, vice president of market development for the agency.

Detroit Newspapers, which oversees the joint operating agreement between Knight Ridder’s Detroit Free Press and Gannett’s The Detroit News, sold the entire front page of both papers to Marshall Field’s on Wednesday, triggering some protests from readers.

Ford told E&P that Marshall Field’s approached Detroit Newspapers — the retailer was shopping the idea around to newspapers in other cities as well — and that the agency gave the idea ?thoughtful consideration? before agreeing to run the ads on Wednesday. ?It just seemed like nothing far off field from a gatefold or a wrap,? he said.

The ads featured a gigantic American flag touting a Memorial Day sale under the banners of both papers. The real Page One started on the next page.

Ford would not disclose the cost of the ads and he did not know the impact it had on Wednesday’s single copy sales.

The editorial side of both papers was consulted about the move, according to Ford. Asked about this by E&P, Free Press Editor Carole Leigh Hutton declined to comment on the matter. A call to the office of Mark Silverman, editor of the News, was referred back to Ford.

Not everyone was happy about the decision. On Thursday the Free Press printed a couple letters from disenchanted readers.

Chris White of Hershey wrote, ??I was thrilled to find the Free Press wrapped in the American flag, thinking there were special articles relating to Memorial Day and what it stands for. I was appalled to find that this was only a blatant advertisement? Way to go Free Press.?

Cecilia Bickes of Detroit wrote, ?I find it presumptuous of you to think it’s OK to place an ad there. Why should I have to dig for the beginning of a paper I am paying to publish? I am considering canceling my subscription.?

Another point of view was expressed by a reader in a letter to the Romenesko site at ?I haven’t seen the advertisement that covers 1A of today’s Free Press, but I’m even more outraged by what’s actually on 1A. Half the front page is devoted to a readers’ survey of who the Detroit Pistons’ most valuable player is.?

As the advertising environment remains soft, newspapers are looking for innovative ways to attract revenue. The idea of selling the front page, and putting the publication’s logo on top, is known in the magazine industry as a ?false cover.?

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