This Is the Strangest Newspaper-Business Story I Have Ever Read

More

Seattletimes-frontpage.jpgI really want to just tell you about this utterly strange business decision in the Seattle Times. But I thought it might be more instructive -- and more fun? -- to ask what you would do in their situation so that you can appreciate the severity of their challenge ... and the eccentricity of their decision.

YOU ARE: a media company executive. You own the Seattle Times. Profits are endangered. Ad dollars are down. Political ad revenue is down, especially. Your job is to find a solution.

FIRST: Consider some obvious possibilities. You can hire more sales people to pitch advertisers, including political campaigns. You can ask your current sales team to try harder, target smarter, pitch pithier, innovate! You can pinch pennies and layoff expensive editors, cut your travel and reimbursement budget, stop publishing on certain days, shrink your circulation, that kind of stuff.

SECOND: Consider some slightly less obvious options. You can invest in a new section that concentrates on the software revolution to attract targeted advertising for a Seattle audience. You can supplement revenue with new business divisions that you think could be profitable in a year or so, like an events arm or an annual conference.

What do you DO?

While you're thinking, here's what the Seattle Times Company did. It bought two advertisements in its own paper on behalf of political campaigns. It's as if The Atlantic replaced a "house ad" for The Atlantic Wire with a square that said "Exxon: Just a great, great company." As Dylan Byers reports:

The ad is part of an independent-expenditure campaign with no coordination between the paper and the campaign, according to a statement from The Seattle Times. The ad appears on page B6 and says [Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob] McKenna is a "choice that will make us all proud" and praises the candidate's time as Washington state's attorney general. The advertisement states that "no candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by The Seattle Times Company."

Try telling an old, long-time Seattle Times reader that a Seattle Times Company endorsement in the Seattle Times is not in fact a Seattle Times endorsement but in fact an Seattle Times Company "advertising initiative." (Predictably, readers and journalists are angry.)

If you're thinking "buying an ad in your own newspaper doesn't make you any money," then yes, you are technically correct. But, you are not yet thinking at the expansively creative level of the Seattle Times Company. Their theory is that the advertisement will prove so demonstrably valuable that future political campaigns will learn to pay $100,000 of their *own money* to the newspaper. In other words, it's an inherently misleading and hollow advertisement designed to persuade companies that advertisements have meaning and value.

I've been chastened enough by predictions to stop making them -- at least too many of them. But rather than guess the fate of this decision, I'll settle for saying: This is pretty much the weirdest media business decision I have ever heard of.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In