MEDIA BUYERS TAKE LA TIMES SNAFU IN STRIDE

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By: Tony Case

Shareholders, Advertisers Probably Don’t Care

(Mediaweek) When the publisher of the Los Angeles Times made a controversial advertising pact, newsroom staffers raised such a ruckus that Times editor Michael Parks last week assigned Pulitzer-winning media writer David Shaw to investigate the mess and report his findings in the newspaper. All the while, many advertisers and Wall Street analysts asked: What’s the big deal?

The outrage ‘is not coming from the advertisers – it’s coming from the newspaper or the magazine that itself has created these walls, the ‘separation of church and state,” said Melissa Pordy, senior vice president/print director at Zenith Media, New York. ‘Anywhere you can get mentions in editorial or support is terrific. ‘

Times publisher Kathryn Downing has apologized for an arrangement with the city’s Staples Center to share profits from a Times magazine section whose sole subject was the new sports complex.

While acknowledging the partnership ‘definitely crossed the line,’ Steve Barlow, media analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston, New York, said, ‘I get calls from reporters all the time, incensed because of freedom of the press. But it’s not my lifeblood – I worry about the bottom line, growth rates going down.’ He predicted the controversy would have little impact in the minds of Times Mirror shareholders.

But some others shared the newsroom’s frustrations. ‘It raises questions as to the credibility of the newspaper,’ said Loren Ghiglione, director of the University of Southern California’s journalism department.

The ad-sharing fiasco so angered former Times publisher Otis Chandler that last week he emerged from obscurity to rip the paper’s current leadership. Some observers speculated that Chandler, still a major Times Mirror shareholder, might be pushing for management changes at the company his family has dominated for more than a century. Chandler called the Staples Center gaffe ‘unbelievably stupid and unprofessional.’ But Times Mirror’s board last week did not indicate it was displeased with CEO Mark Willes.

While most advertisers seemed to downplay the snafu, one buyer who does business with the Times says the paper is heading in the wrong direction. ‘Ever since Willes came to the Times, the paper has been falling apart,’ said Catherine Hahn, media director at Suissa Miller Advertising in Los Angeles.



(c) Copyright 1999, Editor & Publisher

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