Guess who’s on the cover of The Newfoundland Herald this week? It’s Debbie and Jonathan, of Here & Now!
Sorry. I’m kidding. It’s NTV again; Sharon Snow and Danielle Butt.
There’s still a few weeks left in December. What are the odds that we’ll see one more, before the new year?
But seriously, my blog item of November 17 (Orgy of Self Promotion) sparked a fair bit of discussion in the comments section.
It also prompted some ‘off the record’ correspondence from a couple of people within the Stirling empire. One drew my attention to that day’s edition of The Telegram (November 17), suggesting it wasn’t just The Herald, NTV and OZ that indulged in self-promotion.
I checked it out, and there, on the bottom of page 1, was a story about the launch of ‘Hurricane Igor: In the Eye of the Storm’, a photo book about the destruction and aftermath of Igor.
Yes, the employee was right – this was a bit of self-promotion. If the book had come from another publisher, it would have been relegated further back, to the arts section.
That said, all media outlets do indulge in self-promotion. This, in itself, is not bad, depending on how often it is done, and the merit of the story being promoted.
Key thing is, all stories – including self-congratulatory ones – need to have a news peg; an event or item upon which the story hangs. In this case, The Telegram launched a book about a high-profile news event, so that’s valid. It’s also common to see such stories when a newsroom wins an award – this is a bit of promotion in which all media indulge.
The difference is, The Herald covers most often don’t have news pegs. They are scheduled well in advance, without any kind of news hook. They are advertisements, posing as editorial.
The exceptions here are the two covers in 2010 featuring Toni Marie Wiseman, which, I am told, sold exceptionally well. These covers had a news peg, of sorts, because Wiseman’s pregnancy was something of a media event, and lot of people were interested in the story. (You can just see her bosses rubbing their hands in glee, saying, ‘Toni, are you planning to have any more children? We want to schedule another cover!’)
Going back to The Telegram – the first story on the Igor book was valid enough. However, five days later (November 22), it was back on page one – this time above the fold, top of page one, spanning four of five columns and taking up 50 percent of the page. The news peg was reasonable – The Telegram and Creative Publishing were donating $100,000 in book sales to the Hurricane Igor Assistance Fund. It is the largest single donation to the fund so far, and the story definitely has merit. But top of page one? Nope. That’s gratuitous. Top of page three would have been fine, but dominating page one tells readers that this was the most important story in the province that day.
And we all know that wasn’t the case.
But that’s not all. Another Stirling employee sent me a note, making some interesting observations on this subject. For obvious reasons, this person cannot be identified.
“I enjoyed your recent blog entry on The Telegram website about the loopy editorial policies at the Stirling Companies,” my contact wrote. “There's no doubt it speaks to the danger of media consolidation in a small market. All the local media outlets are guilty of self-promotion to a degree. And certainly, a reasonable amount of self-congratulation is justified in certain situations. For example, CBC raving about all its AJA wins a few months back. Obviously NTV, The Telegram and VOCM aren't about to provide media consumers with advertisements for the competition, so it's left to CBC to toot its own horn. However I've noticed of late that stories by media outlets about themselves seem to be getting more flagrant. The Telegram has been particularly guilty in this regard. As I write this, two of the three top stories on the Tely website focus directly on The Telegram and Transcontinental. Granted, one of them is about the new Hurricane Igor book, at least some of the profits of which are going to charity. Nevertheless, the article is a largely a promotion for Transcontinental and Creative Publishing. The other story concerns the Newspaper in Education program, a source of particular frustration for me. Every month or so, there seems to be a full page devoted to an NIE story. Again, the principle behind NIE is objectively admirable. Getting young people to read, especially about current events, is undoubtedly beneficial. But surely there are other projects of this nature that deserve the paper's attention. The whole thing strikes me as transparent and somewhat shallow. I'm not sure what purpose these stories serve, as presumably if you're reading them you're probably already buying the paper regularly.”
Now, I don’t agree on the Newspapers in Education thing. That program has a function, and aims to increase literacy, so a full page isn’t so bad when it appears inside the paper. But my contact’s remarks weren’t all bad, as evidenced by these closing thoughts:
“Having grumbled long enough, I'll also say that generally the editorial content of the paper has been quite strong of late. The coverage of Igor was excellent, particularly the work done by Barb Sweet and James McLeod. Russell Wangersky's columns and editorials have been absolute must-reads in the last few months. He and the paper deserve credit for providing reasonable and warranted criticism of political excess. And speaking of self-promotion, the paper's current television advertising is quite impressive. This, not redundant stories about NIE, is the way to promote yourself.”
Yes, this is typical of many of the emailed comments I receive from readers. It’s nice to know I have such an insightful, articulate and outspoken audience.