Who Really Owns Your Newspaper?

Here's the full page ad.

Here’s the full page ad.

Local real estate agents went nuts recently over a  story in the Times Union. It was a lightweight piece with readers responding to this question: What did your realtor tell you to do but you ignored?  Well, this went over like a fart at an open house.

The newspaper had to backpedal and apologize to the angry agents, but the kowtowing didn’t end there: the TU is now running  a  week of full page ads extolling the virtues of dealing with a real estate agent.

Why so sensitive? First of all, realtors are proud people; just look at how they use their photos in their ads, on their signs, their business cards… but more importantly they spend a sh*tload of money in the newspaper, so they have a great deal of influence.

You might assume this is a reaction to tough times in the news biz, and that when things were solid this could NEVER have happened. But the truth is that this sensitivity to big advertisers and their whims is nothing new.

When I worked in local TV, part of my job was to help come up with interesting, promotable stories to do in sweeps. I was not a journalist, but a marketer, and it was my role to understand what pushed viewer’s buttons.

Several times I sat in meetings and pitched an idea that went something like this:

“What’s the biggest consumer purchase most people will ever make, besides a house? Buying a car. We should do a money piece that shows people how to go into the showroom and get the best deal possible. We can explain the tricks they use to get you to pay more — we can probably even find a former car dealer who’ll talk about it. Imagine how great it would be if we could save people thousands of dollars? That’s some news you can use”

This suggestion never went anywhere. Why? Because car dealers are huge (no pun intended) advertisers, and the last thing you want in your newscast is a story on how to beat them at their game. That game is paying for your newscast.

At the end of the day, this is a tale of media literacy. If you think there is strict separation between the newsroom and the sales department you are completely wrong — especially in a town this size.

Style note: I refuse to capitalize “realtor.”

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