If memory serves correctly, it was in early 1997 that a meeting took place in Carthage Press Publisher Jim Farley's office that reminded me of what today's journalism is really all about.
I can't remember exactly who was in the room, but it seems to me that in addition to Farley and me, that Ken and Randy Cope of the Neosho Daily News and our new owner at the time American Publishing were also there. If I took notes over the conversation (and I am sure I did), they have long since vanished, either left in the cardboard boxes I abandoned in the Press basement in May 1999, or tossed away when I moved from Carthage to Joplin in August 2004.
The topic was the plan to add page one advertising to The Press. It seems to me that it was Ken Cope who asked me if I had any objections to page one advertising. Never being one to play the political game, I quickly answered that I had many objections. Page one advertising to me was an indication that our news product was for sale. Though history shows that the newspapers of the 1800s and early 1900s had front pages that were filled with advertising, that almost totally vanished as the 20th century wore on. Only the worst newspapers put ads on their showcase news page.
I was too stupid to realize (or maybe I did and just had to say it anyway) that the decision had already been made. Words to the effect of "We have decided to try it anyway," ended my portion of the meeting, I was summarily dismissed and before too long, page one of The Carthage Press was a new home for advertising.
It wasn't just The Press, newspapers all over the United States have returned to page one advertising, some of them even trumpeting the idea they were doing it to return to the good old days.
Some newspapers even did the unthinkable (to me, at least, and put political ads on page one, which certainly either lends the notion that a newspaper is either supporting the candidate or for sale to the highest bidder.
But what rankled the most was the idea some newspapers tried to sell that these page-one ads were actually a part of some great journalistic tradition.
Those memories came rushing back as I watched a portion of the 6 p.m. news on KODE tonight. I wanted to get another look at the infamous crawl the station has added and after watching it I have completely changed my mind about it.
Hopefully, regular readers didn't collapse from shock after reading that last sentence. I still hate the crawl, but it was naive of me to think that it had anything to do with KODE trying to differentiate its news product from its competitors. It's the bottom line, plain and simple.
The news crawl, and along with it the news, is just another means to make a buck. I did not notice when I wrote my last post about the crawl that it was paid for by an advertiser. I was trying to determine the quality of the news items that were crawling across the bottom of my screen.
This isn't the first time advertising has crept into local news programs. Nearly every health spot on all of the stations has a hospital advertising it. KODE already runs the fake Aaron Sachs interviews (You'll never see Sachs and his interviewer in the picture at the same time and amazingly interviewers at the Springfield station that carries the Sachs segment ask the exact questions, word for word, that KODE asks and get the same answers, word for word.), and who can forget the Dish Network ads KODE and KSNF disguised as news during the initial stages of the Cable One-Nexstar battle?
Newspapers, radio, television, everyone does it. You can almost justify it by considering how much revenue they have lost to the Internet and other media outlets over the last few years. The sad thing, though, is that even if they were making money hand over fist, they would still jump at the chance to add a few more bucks to their take.
In 1997, I was hopelessly naive to think that anything I might say would change American Publishing's plan to add page one ads to The Carthage Press. My old fashioned romantic ideas about the role of newspapers in society probably contributed to my departure from the business two years later, but I wouldn't take back that stand or any others I made to try to uphold the concept of journalism as a public service.
Once you sell your integrity, you can never get it back.