When this city's two daily newspapers recently banned classified
ads for private gun sales, the response was fast and unforgiving.
"Be a newspaper, not a police officer!" said one letter to the
editor. Another called the policy hypocritical. "Since automobiles
kill many more people than guns, are you also going to reject
classified ads from individuals trying to sell their
The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen are not the only papers
to get letters like these. Eleven others around the US also exclude
The financial costs can be significant - The Seattle Times
reportedly loses as much as $400,000 a year for refusing to publish
certain ads. Still, as the traditional "firewall" between editorial
content and advertising crumbles, the move is becoming a more
accepted way of keeping values consistent throughout the paper,
media experts say.
"The newspapers leave the impression that 'We just don't do
this,' " says Jay Black, a media-ethics professor at the University
of South Florida in Tampa, comparing the practice to banning ads for
adult bookstores. "Their editorial position is supposed to be the
voice of the paper."
Indeed, while the decision costs both Tucson papers advertising
and subscription revenues - a combined $20,000 this year, according
to one insider - the publishers call it a moral duty.
"The publishers felt that our advertising policies needed to be
in alignment with policies that they've encouraged on our editorial
pages," says Jim Rowley, vice president for the Tucson papers'
shared marketing department. "They favor background checks for
For many gun proponents, however, the move amounts to backdoor
censorship, and unfairly targets a legal practice.
"Realistically, this will have no effect whatsoever on criminal
access to firearms," says Jim Manown, a spokesman for the National
Rifle Association. "Such an action condemns the 99 percent of law-
abiding gun owners."
"If the nation's newspapers want to make an editorial comment
regarding gun ownership," he adds, "they have a forum to do that on
their editorial pages."
But journalism and law experts say the bans are not
unconstitutional. "A news operation has the right to make these
kinds of decisions," says Mr. Black, who is also the former chair of
the National Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee. …