More on ‘intrusive’ ads: Good or bad for newspapers?

SO…A FEW CONTRIBUTORS have chimed in with their thoughts on ads that “intrude” onto the page.
I can’t be sure how many of you read the comments on posts, so I’ve decided to copy them here…in a long post. I’m interspersing some comments…and I’ll have some general thoughts at the end.
Here goes:
12.29.10 | From Lori Freeze: “ACK!! This further muddies the separation of what is paid advertising and what is supposed to be objective journalism. Readers soon won’t be able to tell at all.”
Ed says: I’m not comfortable with that last sentence. Seems to me it doesn’t give readers enough credit. I think readers are a lot more sophisticated in what they see and read than we may think.
12.29.10: | From Jeremy Morlock: “I have to agree with Ms. Freeze. One of our strongest assets as newspapers is the respect we earn from readers; that is what keeps them coming to us, and what makes our space valuable. If we consider our advertisers to be our main clients, rather than our readers, the readers are bound to notice. The beer ad especially seems to send the message that ads are king and news is incidental.”
Ed says: In most community papers, your reader is your advertiser is your reader is your… Do you really think readers will respect us less because of this type of advertising? Or will they respect us less when they realize that we have limited respect for their ability to discern the difference between news and advertising?
01.02.11 | From Linda Buhman: Hate ’em! Our local daily has started to do it, and you can’t tell where the ad ends and “editorial” begins. You have a tragic story on The Herald page and that stupid ad runs right into it. I hate to say “never,” but about the only way this format would be used in our papers is over my dead body…
Ed says: I haven’t seen the page(s) that Linda mentions here, so it’s difficult for me to get into specifics. Linda’s “over my dead body” comment seems a bit shrill. It smacks a bit of editorial purism. I used to be an editorial purist, too…until I learned over time that advertising is not something for us to sneer at, but instead something for us to appreciate. As editors, reporters and photographers, we sometimes believe it’s our duty to save readers from themselves. I’m reminded of a quote from a good friend of mine who is now a publisher: “I sometimes wish our editors would try to inform the world—instead of trying to save it.”
01.03.11 | From Lauri Shillings: Ohhh, the friction! I have to say that I like *most* of these types of ads. It makes what could be a rather ordinary text heavy page and pops it into the modern era. I think the key to making this type of unique advertising work is the page designer who has to wrap the text or graphics around it. I could go on a rant about how community newspapers are dying because of their old fashioned values, technology and thinking … but that’s for another day. :)
Ed says: When I saw Lauri’s comment, I was encouraged. “Finally,” I thought, “someone who gets it!” So, I urged her to follow up on her comments, with the following comment of my own.  01.03.11: “Lauri: You are hereby authorized—nay, beseeched—to rant! I have my thoughts on these ads but would certainly like to hear from someone who works in ad design and may have some opinions that differ from those of editors. So…please…RANT!” Her response follows.
01.04.11: | From Lauri Shillings:

“Well, you asked for it….

Here’s a starter to that rant:

Why not utilize new ideas (i.e. these unique ad shapes and designs) and new forms of technology to increase the profitability of your newspaper?

Newspapers are OBVIOUSLY not making a whole lotta cash right now. This I know for a fact because I’ve taken a 12% hit to my own pocketbook along with everyone else at my small local newspaper more than 18 months ago and see no return of that in the near or foreseeable future.

Now ask yourself, “Why?” Why are newspapers not making the profits they once were?

My simplified answer: Advertising and readership.

Advertising has found a new vehicle to spend money on—and I hate to tell you this but it’s not in print. It’s in the new-fangled thing called modern technology: smart phones, internet, twitter, blogs, etc…all that “free” stuff you might think is silly. Well, I can tell you: The millions and millions of people who use all that free stuff? They like it. They use it. They pay attention to the advertising on it, heck they pay for it, too—because it is presented to them in an easy-to-use-and-digest fashion that fits their on-the-go lifestyle.

How many newspapers advertise themselves in an alternate medium? How many provide their advertisers a way to get their message out other than on their own personal websites and in print? Can we not create a web ad for our clients and have them pay to place it on several other sites, too? Do we not have the staff or the motivation to provide good marketing to our clients? No? Well, our clients think that we should be able to do that—because we are in the business of advertising. If we cannot provide these services to our clients, they will take their dollar to someone who can. Maybe a local marketing agency that CAN put their message on blogs, social sites, mobile phones, free news sites. etc…and that dilutes their dollars to spend with us, small community newspapers.

In short, support new advertising ideas because they are working. Advertising clients like it. They PAY for it.

It’s time to think outside the box—or, in this case, the page.”

Ed says: My follow-up to Lauri’s “rant” came the moment I saw it. 01.04.11: “Hooray for you! And…here comes the shocker for many editors out there…I agree fully. More to come…Ed”


I have worked at and for newspapers for 44 years. During that time, I have seen newspapers travel a long road. From the days of Linotypes and cast, nickeled press plates, we are now on the internet, on the iPhone and outsourcing ad design…and even some reporting.

And during that time, I have grown from a newsroom purist to a consultant who sees the much bigger picture and is delighted by the understanding that newspapers will continue to thrive for many years to come. Perhaps we will eventually leave print behind us and become totally digital. Perhaps we will find our eventual niche in the internet cloud. And perhaps print design will eventually go the way of the Linotype and the Compugraphic.

Nevertheless, one truth remains: Advertising will continue to pay the bills. Without advertising, we would be unable to support the newsroom. We would not be able to buy the computers, the cameras and the software and the very desks at which we work. Certainly, the money to pay for all that doesn’t come from the newsroom.

Here’s a quote worth reading, from Lachlan Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch: “The industry is littered with self-styled purists who believe the business of media…the requirement to make a profit…somehow corrupts the craft.” Now, you are entitled to your own opinion about old man Murdoch and his media outlets, but there’s no arguing with the financial success of his empire.

Here’s another quote, from a guy I know pretty well: “If you’re in the newspaper business only to make money…you’re in the wrong business.” That’s a quote from newspaper consultant Ed Henninger. Like I said, a guy I know pretty well. What I meant when I said it some years ago—and what I mean now—is that newspapers need to be driven by more than just profits. We have a responsibility to inform readers and to bring meaning to their lives. We have a responsibility to be a watchdog for the community. We have a responsibility to be fair…and accurate…and balanced…in our reporting and presentation of the news. And…we have a responsibility to offer our advertisers a medium that helps them to deliver their message to readers.

Let’s remember that the advertiser wants us to succeed. He’s the guy who puts his money where his mouth is—every ad he buys is an affirmation that he believes in us, that he sees the value of being a part of our product. He wants us to succeed because every ad he buys is an investment: in his business, in our newspaper and in the future of both.

So, if an advertiser comes to us with a new idea—a new way of presenting his message—wouldn’t it be foolish for us to reject that idea without giving it due consideration? And wouldn’t we want to work with him to help him present his idea—at a premium rate?

I do not believe that publishers and advertising directors are Faustian. They do not lie awake at night searching for new ways to sell their souls for another buck. Instead, I believe that they are genuinely interested in the well-being of their newspaper and they are open-minded enough to search for—and respond to—new ways of contributing to that well-being.

So, when I see a new approach to advertising, I am not so ready to man the barricades and cry “Never! Not now! Not here! Not ever!”

Instead, I’m more inclined to want to study the concept, to walk around it as I would an intriguing sculpture, to eye it from different angles in different lights…and to look for the good in its form.

I believe in advertising. I believe in advertisers. I believe in newspapers. I believe that they are inextricably bound up in each other.


For the good of each other…for the good of the reader…and for the good of the community.



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6 responses to “More on ‘intrusive’ ads: Good or bad for newspapers?

  1. Linda Buhman

    Hi, again. If by “editorial purist,” I am someone who tries to make it easy for a reader to differentiate content from advertising, so be it. The goal of good newspaper design is to help improve readibility. Two of the examples you’ve given are not too bad; but the samples I’ve seen were a mess. A silhouette ad in the middle of the page with editorial text wrapped around the ad; circular ads with the center hole filled with editorial; a strip of the ad at the top with a larger rectangle at the bottom, and news briefs in between with no head to indicate that the copy was not part of the ad. That’s what I object to.

    • Show us! Send us pdf files…or scanned tearsheets! Send me the tearsheets and I’ll scan them in. But we gotta see what you’re talking about. So…again…show us!

  2. I’m not totally opposed to these ads — but I think the key is that the advertiser should pay premium for them. An intrusive ad –no matter what the size — should be billed as a full page since no other ad will be able to be on the page (in most cases). That would never happen at our paper. Newspapers are so desperate these days for advertisers that full page ads and front page positions are “given” away. Advertisers make all kinds of requests and don’t pay more for us to fulfill those requests. If newspapers don’t think their space is worth the money, how are advertisers supposed to?

  3. I totally agree that advertising pays the bills, but I do think sometimes the lines between advertising and news have become blurred in advertorial content. If it wasn’t for news, there wouldn’t be much left to sell. I don’t mind ads on section fronts and even small banner ads on the bottom of A1. What I’m not fond of (mainly from a writing perspective) is advertorial content that does tend to compromise journalism ethics of reporters.

  4. I do understand the importance of every ad sell in this economic environment, but I agree with Dana that the new ‘intrusive’ ads should be sold at a premium. And while I do not think that our readers are too stupid to find the editorial content on such pages, I do think that some readers will be too busy to search for it and give up (maybe they’ll just google it) or they will assume it is fake ad copy. Who wants to advertise in a paper with no readers? Editorial and advertising cannot exist independently.

  5. So far, the intrusive ads we’ve had have been reasonable (from a copy desk/layout/etc. perspective) — stairstep or angled across the top, or a guy’s head breaking the plane of the ad up into the news copy. They are, indeed, sold at a premium. And we do get advance warning, especially about the ones involving specific individuals (midsize daily; well-known people; modest attempt to avoid showing any possiblity of favoritism among our advertisers). Am I thrilled about it? Well, no. But am I thrilled that advertisers are taking advantage of a print-product option? Yeah. Hell, yeah. I like the Internet, but I am a print-product person.

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