UPDATED 14:26 EDT / MAY 11 2009

Harry McCracken’s Journalism Senses are Tingling

This morning, Harry McCracken was (as he put it) “stressed out” by an ad campaign being run at the New York Times website today.

McCracken went on at great length as to how his sense of journalistic ethics was deeply offended, or at least stretched past the point of comfort:

Yup–it’s a fake New York Times homepage from 2040, with jokey futuristic news stories and a redesign which consists of the Times dumping its logo, tagline, and typography in favor of a look which I’m guessing won’t end up resembling whatever is hip when 2040 does roll around. It’s a component of Intel’s big new ad campaign with the slogan “Sponsors of Tomorrow.” (Weirdly, when I go to the Intel site it links to on my Mac, I get a page that’s empty except for a splotch of tan–but maybe it works better on your Intel-based computer than on mine.)

As a journalist, I stress out when media brands lease out their good names to advertisers to make a buck, and the notion of the Times permitting a fanciful New York Times to be shown in an ad on its own site is inherently unsettling. (It’s unfortunately reminiscent of the Los Angeles Times’ appalling decision to allow a fake article to appear on its front page.) No brand in journalism has had standards higher than those of the Times, so this sort of tomfoolery is particularly out of character.

Our Angle? Harry’s a great journalist, but it seems he’s not as well versed on principles of advertising and marketing.

Every free news content company is, in essence, not in the news business, but in the ad sales business. Their responsibility is to the advertisers and not to the readers (even though their “brand” may be based upon the mythos of journalistic integrity, and thus what allows them to have an audience).

To that end, the NYT has had many much more egregious violations in the past than this.

Beyond that, though, all advertising and sponsorship is, as Harry put it, “lending out the brand.” In this case, your example is literally true, but the whole reason marketing/sponsorship/advertising works is because it allows brands with lots of cash but not a lot of notoriety to trade that money for notoriety on the backs of brands where the reverse is true.

Update: The commenters have called attention to a story that seems to be showing up on late editions of the paper’s website, in which the New York Times may be guilty of paid placement for Intel.

It’s hard to say if it’s a poorly timed coincidence or a paid placement in poor taste. You tell us, the screenshot is below.


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