Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Two-Way Street: Gatekeepers Still on Guard, but Editorial, Advertising Talking More Than Ever

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Two-Way Street: Gatekeepers Still on Guard, but Editorial, Advertising Talking More Than Ever

Article excerpt

And "the Wall" came tumbling down.

In the wake of the recent fiasco surrounding the Los Angeles Times' revenue-sharing scheme with Staples Center (involving a special issue of the paper's Sunday magazine), some newspaper industry executives spoke of "rebuilding the Wall" dividing editorial and business operations. Others argued for further erosion of the Wall. But are the two sides really that far apart? And has a seismic shift already shaken the structural integrity of the Wall?

To find out, E(and)P polled editors and publishers around the country and posed tough questions about current newspaper practices - and policies.

Our findings proved quite surprising, and significant. Despite deep splits on certain issues, we found a high level of accommodation and compromise - and a mutual desire to firm up the bottom line. Taken together, the results suggest that the age-old image of a high, forbidding concrete barrier separating the newsroom from the business side has already been blasted into history - replaced (for better or for worse) by a low, approachable wall, made of glass.

In late November, E(and)P sponsored the first in-depth survey on issues surrounding the editorial/business Wall. One hundred five editors and 60 publishers responded to the survey, conducted by Oradell, N.J.-based TIPP, a national polling organization.

Perhaps the most useful set of findings reveals why the current industrywide debate about the Wall is necessary, and urgent.

Flagrant breaches in the Wall, such as the L.A. Times/Staples controversy, are rare. This indicates, to some, that concerns about business invasions of editorial territory may be much ado about nothing. Instead, the E(and)P/TIPP survey results suggest that threats to, or breaks in, the Wall are common, perhaps even daily, occurrences at many newspapers. And, in some cases, they reveal a gulf between the opinions, and policies, of those on opposite sides of the Wall:

* Three of four editors and publishers reported that advertising/editorial guidelines are breached "sometimes" or "frequently" in the industry.

* Roughly 40 percent of the respondents disclosed that their papers had published special sections to obtain advertising even though they knew the focus of the sections had "little reader interest."

* One of three in the sample said they believed that "promotional ties or revenue-sharing arrangements" with the people or institutions newspapers cover was a "common industry practice. …

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