News in Wonderland


     There was a brief moment earlier this month when I thought print journalism was finally officially dead.
     It was when I saw a full-color rendering of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter seemingly plastered over the front page of the Sunday Los Angeles Times.
     It wasn’t that I’d thought that most journalism was ever all that wonderful but at least most newspapers didn’t try to fool anyone with ads disguised as news.
     To be fair, it didn’t take long to figure out that the ad page was covering the real front page, but you still have to wonder why someone thought it was a good idea for readers to see a huge ad before seeing any real news.
     Or maybe you don’t have to wonder. We’ve all heard how these are desperate times for print news operations.
     It made me think back to my journalism school days when I was kind of disturbed to see advertising classes in the same university department. I even had to take one of those classes.
     It always seemed to me that marketing and public relations were pretty much the opposite of what journalism was supposed to be. Lies vs. truth. It was kind of like having Sith and Jedi in the same academy. (Or Klingon and Vulcan if you prefer that universe.)
     But at least most real-world news outfits made an effort to keep the news and ad business departments separate. If you didn’t do that, why would anyone believe any of your news?
     You’d think this would be obvious, but maybe it’s not. At least not to the people in the business of selling.
     Last week, this appeared in a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Variety, the entertainment industry publication: “After Plaintiff had paid approximately $226,000 to Variety but prior to the culmination of the exclusive promotional campaign for the film, Variety published a scathing review of the film, effectively destroying the promotion to distributors and any chance for award nominations for the 2009-2010 awards season.”
     As a result, an outfit called Calibra Pictures, LLC sued Variety for breach of contract, negligence, fraud and deceit, unfair business practices, and breach of fiduciary duty. How dare those news people maintain their objectivity after being paid for ads!
     Yes, the suit says Variety breached its marketing contract and duty of good faith and fair dealing by publishing a bad review.
     Actually, this is an interesting proximate cause issue. Did the film bomb because of the bad review or did the film bomb because it was a really bad film? If the film had been good, would the review have mattered? If the review had been good, would the film have mattered?
     Imagine how many readers Variety would still have if it turned out it sold favorable reviews.
     In an odd sort of way, this is heartening for us news types. At least someone – i.e. an ad purchaser – thinks independent, honest journalism/criticism has power. Or at least what appears to be independent, honest journalism/criticism.
     OK, anyone out there want to pay me not to make fun of them?
     I could ridicule your opponents with right incentive.
     
     DOES THIS MAKE CENSUS? Did anyone else out there think it was strange to get a letter in the mail from the U.S. Department of Commerce telling us we were going to get a census form in the mail later?
     If we weren’t going to pay attention to the census form, why would we pay attention to the letter telling us to pay attention?
     What they should have done was put the Mad Hatter on the outside of the census form envelope.

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