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Monday, August 29, 2005

Shadow ads - a threat to editorial integrity

As newspapers are not doing very well in terms of ad revenue (see previous posting), some think of new ways to attract advertisers. One such way is to accept shadow ads. 'Shadow ads', or 'watermark ads', are "shadowy images of corporate logos, movie characters, or other images" that turned up on stock tables, movie listings and sports data pages in newspapers (see Editor & Publisher from June). "News content is superimposed on images including corporate logos", writes The Philadelphia Inquirer. Shadow ads are not directly new and have been in sporadic use over the past years. In 2001, for example, Universal Studios had shadow-like ads in 15 newspapers in the US to promote its film "Jurassic Park II". "The images of flying dinosaurs appeared on tables of agate, or data, such as stock tables", reports Editor & Publisher . Such advertisements are, however, highly controversial with some editors being afraid that the line between editorial and advertising might be crossed.

John Morton, longtime newspaper industry analyst and president of Morton Research Inc., a US media consulting firm, said on Editor & Publisher in June that using shadow ads "cheapens newspapers to the extent they get into it... (Newspaper) are not doing as well as in past economic recoveries, and they're looking for new ways to generate revenues. And this is one unfortunate direction they are taking." Recently he added in The Philadelphia Inquirer that shadow ads "are harmful to the credibility of newspapers... What's supposed to be neutral is sponsored by somebody."

"Proponents of shadow ads, however, say they are little different from the pop-up ads that appear on many websites these days, though many find such advertising irritating", report Press Gazette.

Don Wycliff, public editor of Chicago Tribune said on The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Shadow ads blur the line between advertising and editorial content, and are unwise." He does not agree with his publisher Tribune Co. which allows shadow ads. According to Editor & Publisher the company has outlined "a companywide set of guidelines that specifies when and how shadow ads can be sold. The policy also covers other new types of newspaper advertising, including ads with unusual shapes or positions on the page."

It seems that newspapers are more open to new forms of advertising these days. Joe Natoli, chairman and publisher of The Inquirer said in The Philadelphia Inquirer: "We can't say we won't change. We have to try to be open-minded, but we have to be very careful as well." The Inquirer, which so far has no shadow ads in the paper, would allow them but only behind certain content, such as stock listings and movie timetables.

After all, newspapers should be very careful with shadow ads as the strict distinction between advertising and editorial is essential to every newspaper.

Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Editor & Publisher , Press Gazette

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on August 29, 2005 at 02:58 PM | Permalink

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