The news is spreading about the Dallas Morning News memo to its employees explaining how the editors of various sections will now report to sales managers, who are being renamed general managers. Robert Wilonsky does a great job in this blog post detailing how the issue started and even has interviews with the paper’s editor and publisher.
As a former journalist, the concept of having editorial content people reporting to advertising people gives me the shivers. When I posted the original story to Twitter the other day, I commented, “I weep for the future.” My comment was predicated on the one made to me by Becky Johns when she sent me the post with the note, “Read and weep.”
There has always been an invisible wall — and sometimes a physical barrier — between the editorial and advertising departments at newspapers. It’s been there as a protective barrier for employees on both sides, as well as their customers — the readers on one side and advertisers on the other. Journalistic integrity and credibility are two of the pillars that have kept journalism strong in this country. They have helped readers trust that what they are reading is not tainted by bias. It also has kept advertisers confident in the paper’s power to attract an audience that will, in turn, see their ads.
Certainly, advertising is an incredibly important part of any newspaper, because it is, after all, a business. Advertising revenue is what drives the newsroom budget and determines the size of the paper’s news hole. But I’ve always seen advertising as a necessary evil and certainly nothing that should be embraced by the editorial staff.
I found the following two things the most interesting:
- The publisher was most bothered by the line, “In short, those who sell ads for A.H. Belo’s products will now dictate content within A.H. Belo’s products…” that was in Wilonsky’s original post.
- The publisher’s comment that, “This is much ado about nothing…”
It seems to me that the publisher is bristling at the idea that editorial staff will be affected by what their new managers — remember they used to be called sales managers — is because Wilonsky cut a little too close to the bone. I don’t know how anyone can see this as anything but editorial reporting to sales.
I also can’t believe the publisher suggested people are over-reacting to this news and we’re supposed to believe nothing is going to change in terms of the editorial decisions the paper makes. Really? If nothing is going to change, then why reorganize? The paper’s management claims it’s going to help make things more audience-focused. But, their memo to employees clearly states, “Their (general managers) responsibilities will include sales and business development. They will also be working closely with news leadership in product and content development.”
You cannot have a manager in charge of sales and not expect them to try to influence the news when working with leadership on “product and content development.”
It’s been called a bold idea, but bold doesn’t always mean good. In this case, it’s a bad idea that needs to be abandoned before it can do any real damage. Mr. Publisher, rebuild that wall!
(Wall photo courtesy of frankartculinary via Flickr.)