OMG! Ads on page one?

The Los Angeles Times’ consideration of page one ads is raising distinguished eyebrows and birthing harrumphs of disapproval in the meeting places of Big J journalism (formerly the “smoke-filled rooms”). Lines have been crossed and backs are being stabbed, it seems. Damn the moguls who just want their money! What about “the news?”

At the LATimes, second quarter revenue was down 10% and cash flow down 27%. In his call for front page ads, Publisher David Hiller noted it was one of the worst “ever experienced” by the paper.

Jeff Jarvis neatly sums up what I’m thinking, that page one ads really aren’t the issue:

It’s not that the paper doesn’t matter but with this rate of decline, what everyone should be concentrating on is what come after the paper: not a reinvented print product, not new companions to a print product, but a new conception of local news.

In his memo, Hiller praised the development going on, both in print and online: the launch of a new section, the redesign of another two, and two new online entertainment products. And he talks about one of those corporate initiatives that yield meetings and banners — “Times Change,” this one is called. That’s all well and good.

But what is the LA Times as a local brand and service — note: service vs. product — going to look like in five years and how is it going to get there? How can it get far more local than it is today? How can it build broader networks of people and content and advertising? How can it pay for all that development and experimentation? And how can it survive long enough to get there?

I’ll add that the hand-wringing from the pedestals of “professional” journalism about not only the purity of page one but also the relentless defense of the anachronistic mainstream are out-of-order, inappropriate, misguided and irrelevant in the face of the Media 2.0 distruption. Nostalgic moanings about how wonderful it used to be do nothing to move the rock forward. The news isn’t “the news;” it’s a business. It’s all about profit and growth, and we long ago passed crisis stage. I’m with Jeff on this. Putting ads on the front page is like putting racing stripes on the Titanic.

Oh, and broadcasters need to be paying attention here, too.

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