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Continuing signs of the Decline of the American Newspaper

April 11, 2009

The AP has a story about the LA Times placement of an advertisement for the NBC TV series, Southland, on the front page of the Thursday edition. There was an interesting editorial comment on the practice at the very beginning of the AP piece:

The Los Angeles Times has lent some credibility to the phrase that you can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper — even if it’s on Page One.

The newspaper took the unusual step Thursday of running a front-page advertisement that resembles a news story.

What does it say that you can’t trust everything you read on the front page of a major American newspaper? Distinct from the issue of editorial bias and slanted opinion pieces, the appearance of faux advertisements on the front page is an actual attempt to misrepresent and mislead the readers of the paper. Could there be a more fundamental abuse of a newspaper’s mission? At a time when the nation’s newspapers are struggling to stay afloat, a little experimentation is understandable, even welcome. But when the line between news reporting and revenue gathering is intentionally erased, the result is a product that is no longer a newspaper. If the goal of the editors of the LA Times is to hasten rather than forestall the decline of their paper, this appears to be an effective strategy.

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