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Wall separates advertising and news departments

October 02, 2005

There is a common misconception about newspapers that I'd like to take a crack at clearing up.

That misconception is that advertising departments have input into what stories are published.

Now, I'm not going to try to argue that that is universally untrue. Sure, there are newspapers that will run or withhold information because they're asked to by an advertiser or by an advertising sales person.

At The Herald-Mail, and at any publication worthy of being called a newspaper, that isn't the case.

Certainly, we value our advertisers. We couldn't publish our newspaper without them.

And it's not just their revenue that is appreciated. We are well aware that ads draw readers, just as news stories do. There are ads with coupons, ads with lists of weekly specials, ads that provide information about coming events and so on.

Even as we value our advertisers, we value our integrity and credibility. Any newspaper that would let any factor other than news judgment determine what should or shouldn't be published in its news space has neither.

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At The Herald-Mail, the newsroom and the advertising department are on opposite sides of the building. That separation is as much symbolic as it is physical.

In a nutshell, that separation of departments is another way of making it clear that decisions about what will run in the paper as "news" are made in the newsroom. It is an indication of our commitment to our readers.

You might have noticed that when an advertisement looks a bit like a news story - same headline font or format, for instance - it runs with a "paid advertisement" notice above it. We want to be sure our readers know that what they are looking at is not a news story. We want the line between news and paid advertisements to remain unblurred.

Not blurring the line is important to us because if ads are passed off as news or if news space can be bought and sold the way ad space is, who would believe a word we printed? And if our readers couldn't believe what we printed, we might as well close up shop.

And so, employees working in other departments of the paper can't get a story in or keep a story out based on a story's effect - negative or positive - on revenue.

In my years in these offices - and I've worked here more than a few - I've never heard an Advertising Department employee ask that something about an advertiser be kept out of the paper. I think we can take pride in that because it is an indication that our desire to publish a quality product cuts across departments.

It's also something on which you, our readers, can rely.

When you pick up a Herald-Mail, you might not always agree with our selection of stories, their placement, the headlines that run above them or the photos that accompany them.

But you can be sure of one thing. The decisions made about news content were made where they should be made - in the newsroom.




Linda Duffield is associate editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7591, or by e-mail at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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