Ailing Journalism in Ailing Times
Posted on Jul 5, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
Publisher Hartenstein stands by the special section and sees nothing wrong in what the newspaper did. Business, it seems, is business. And apparently the Los Angeles Times is now primarily about business rather than journalism, at least in the mind of Eddy Hartenstein, a former head of satellite television provider DirecTV who became the leader of the newspaper in 2008. Hartenstein, it should be noted, never has written a news article or copy-edited one on deadline, but he’s a whiz of a businessman.
I can almost hear a few readers of this article telling me to lighten the hell up and not take this advertising joke so damned seriously. My reply is, thanks but no thanks: It’s not something to be light about, and it is damned serious because the issue lies at the core of proper journalism, a pillar of American society. If it’s a joke it’s not a good one in context.
Stuff like what was in the special section is worth a laugh in articles or video clips from the satirical website The Onion (as I write this The Onion’s cover contains a “news” article headed “Restoration of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ Uncovers Horrifying New Verses”). Ditto for Andy Borowitz’s fake news that appears under that prominent label on Truthdig. But fake news doesn’t make me smile when I see it in the pages of the L.A. Times, nor would I chuckle if I saw it in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post.
Some folks higher in the social food chain than I am are similarly upset by the fabricated section. The next day, July 2, the LAT business section published a short article headlined “Supervisors protest Times ad sections; Lawmakers say promotions that resemble news pages harm credibility.” We live in strange days when a county governing board has to lecture a newspaper on journalistic ethics!
Actually, the word advertisement was not exactly “on top of the page” on the section cover; it was three inches from the top edge of the page and under three lines of type and a Benday rule. And a single word one-eighth of an inch high surely does not qualify as “large” when it is dwarfed by ginormous type and photos.
At least a few Times readers also were displeased. An LAT blog named Readers’ Representative Journal: A Conversation on Newsroom Ethics and Standards quoted some of them July 2.
(By clicking on the hyperlink atop the copy block immediately above, you can see the top parts of the fake section and the real section. The image does not contain the part showing the previously mentioned destruction near a Universal gate, or the second photo, which depicted two people facing an area littered with destroyed and smoking automobiles.)
The Wrap website observed July 1 that this is not the first time the LAT has caused a dust-up over advertising.
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