Marketplace Scratch Pad

New lows for newspapers

Scott Jagow Apr 8, 2009

Things have gotten so bad in the newspaper business, a college newspaper was forced to run a full-page Haagen Dazs ad as its front page yesterday. Flip the page and there’s an editorial apologizing for it.

From UCLA’s Daily Bruin:

Many of us volunteered to forfeit our pay in order to ensure that the ad would not run, but because some of our staff members could not afford to use their paychecks to make a statement, we have been forced to go along quietly.

The reality of our financial situation is grim, and the fact of the matter is that we would have been forced to cut thousands of dollars from an ever-tightening budget if we had not run this advertisement.

We were forced to make a decision we find distasteful at best – and dishonest and unethical at worst – because of the ever-present and unrelenting reality of the economy and the downturn of the journalism industry.

As someone who started his journalism career as the editor of his high school newspaper, this rips my heart out. But it’s the new reality, and you either adapt or perish.

The Daily Bruin hopes to avoid further front page ads by tacking on a new student fee. It’s teaming up with other UCLA student groups to get a campus referendum on it.

In the professional ranks, newspaper executives are seeking advice from Google. Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave a speech yesterday to the Newspaper Association of America’s convention in San Diego.

Schmidt said newspapers need to create new products that entice readers to go beyond the headlines on search-engine pages — personalized content, for example. Of course, he didn’t reveal a plan for Google to share its own revenue with newspapers, even though their content is the backbone of Google’s popular News page. (By the way, the Associated Press thinks it can compete with Google News.)

Schmidt said there might be room for micropayments – charging a few cents for each article – or for subscriptions, but those models may prove difficult:

“One of the fundamental problems with the Internet is that it doesn’t respect traditional scarcity structures,” he said. “It’s very hard to hold information back.” The trick, he said, is to worry less about controlling the content, and more about making a profit from it.

“We think the answer is advertising,” Schmidt said, noting that Google’s ad business accounts for 98% of its revenue, so “I guess we have a bias.”

I wonder how many of those ads feature boobs? Songwriter Jonathan Mann of, in collaboration with the staff of the East Bay Express newspaper, sings that boobs are the real solution:

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