Local newspapers up and down the country have recently run political wraparounds of their publications – and some people are getting very hot under the collar about it.
Those titles who’ve accepted the ads – owned by a range of publishers – have come under attack for ‘selling their soul’ or turning a blind eye to political spin for the sake of the bottom line.
But what exactly is the shock and horror here?
Newspaper wraps have again become a frequent sight in recent years. Is an ad that extols the virtues of Conservative or Labour Party any greater threat to freedom than one urging us to get down to the local DIY store at the weekend?
Most – if not all – newspapers taking such ads are scrupulous in ensuring they are clearly marked as advertising.
To accept some of the complaints of the last week would be to credit the general public with a complete absence of common sense.
The large writing at the top flagging the content as advertising serves a pretty big clue that we are not looking at unbiased copy here. To imply that people don’t take in these alerts doesn’t say a lot for our hope that people will read to the end of editorial stories.
To describe newspaper companies as desperate for accepting such messages is also OTT. Back in the day most front pages were ONLY adverts, albeit for a variety of organisations.
One of the current UK media success stories is the resurgent Metro, a bright, attractive tabloid that rarely publishes a week without a wrap.
Editorial content standing side by side with advertising has been the prime make up of newspapers for ever and a day. What’s desperate about a publication accepting payment in return for advertising space? It’s what they do.
Trust with readers
Political parties will often push to have their ads look as close to the paper’s editorial design as possible. Shock news – so does big business. It’s the newspaper’s job – specifically the editor’s – to kick back against anything that crosses the line and potentially breaches trust with readers.
While editing the daily News & Star we carried wraps from both main political proponents and on more than one occasion we had to ask for their more outlandish claims to be toned down. And they were.
On one occasion the design was rejected, not because it infringed any rules on impartiality – it was just too damned dull.
Does that commercial deal have an impact on editorial decision making? Not in my experience.
When red and blue were fighting for the marginal Copeland seat in a recent by election the News & Star ran an inspired front page about a visit to the patch from Theresa May where she’d refused to answer questions from the media.
‘The lady’s not for talking’ made a great front page, generated a complaint from the party’s HR team about ‘hostile’ coverage and hopefully demonstrated to all in the community that while newspaper companies will accept the adverts of political parties – and DIY stores – it doesn’t mean they’re sacrificing that all important editorial independence.