LA Times hits new low, sells front page to advertiser

The Los Angeles Times sold out to advertising this week when the paper gave up the valuable front page and allowed an ad for a TV show to steal not just the space, but the headlines, too.

For those of us who come from the ranks of newspapering, we remember a time when the front page was a near-sacred place, reserved for the day's best and most important news reports and, more importantly, a page free of advertising.

But then newspapers and their bottom lines started to crumble under the weight of the Internet and publishers agreed to give up a chunk of that sacred front page to an advertiser willing to pay a premium. This week, the Los Angeles Times sold-out completely, allowing an advertiser to take over the entire front page - masthead included.

The advertisement - while clearly marked - was a mock-up of the L.A. Times front page, complete with fake stories and photos about vandalism and murder at the NBC studios in nearby suburban Burbank. The ad was a promotion for the new "Law & Order: Los Angeles" TV show.

The ad was wrapped around the real front page (which is really now Page 3), which led with a story about the gubernatorial race in California and a photo of President Obama at a rally in Wisconsin. (See image)

A blog written by the newspaper's reader representative showed that readers weren't all too happy about it either. The blog post featured comments from readers, such as Mr. James W. Ragsdale of Newport Beach, California:

The Times stooped to a new low in its business practices today (Sept. 29) when it published a wrap-around advertising section for the NBC TV network, disguised as the newspaper's front page. Yes, the fake news section was marked ‘advertisement,’ and yes, your company needs advertising revenue in order to survive. But if the Times and other American newspapers are ever going to reverse the trend of declining readership, it is essential for newspapers to be taken seriously by their reading audience.

I don't know that the Times - or any newspaper - will ever be able to reverse the trend of declining readership of the print product. But it should be doing everything it can to maintain the caliber and credibility of the journalism that it publishes - whether in print or online.