My first reaction to news that some Dallas Morning News editors will now be reporting to sales-oriented GMs, was positively Munch-ian (or positively Caulkin-ian, for younger readers; either way, you get the idea).
If you haven’t heard about it yet, you can find some details here. Briefly, the News has decided that editors of sports, entertainment, real estate, automotive, travel and other sections will “will now report directly to Carr’s team of sales managers, now referred to as general managers.” (If you follow the link and read the full report, make sure you read the comments: there is good stuff there.)
I’m an old editorial guy, and although I worked closely with various ad managers at various small newspapers, there’s an initial soul-shrivelling response to the idea that the wall is not only being breached but blown into very small pieces.
But when you look at some of those sections, I wonder if there was much of a wall in the first place. I haven’t seen a copy of the DMN for years, but I do see the local broadsheet. And the local real estate and automotive sections are hardly home to hard-hitting journalism. The local auto reviewers, for example, have never met a car they didn’t like, or if they have, they’ve never written about it. The homes section doesn’t delve into issues such as leaky condos, but they do some soft-focus features on local housing developments.
Sections such as these exist primarily as vehicles for advertising. And there’s nothing wrong that: the advertising they draw (for what appear to be relatively low editorial costs) helps fund a lot of good, serious journalism. Does what the DMN is doing merely recognize that?
Initial reaction aside, I’m not ready to damn the Dallas newspaper to one of the inner circles of journalistic hell. At many small newspapers, there has always been a relationship between the business side and editorial (albiet, a relationship mediated through some poor, harassed editor, and not the director of sales).
And I find it somewhat intriguing that the memo outlining the changes, includes this: “These collaborations will bring new products that consumers want to the market more rapidly.” I’ve added the emphasis.
It is possible that this is nothing more than a cycnical sellout of the editorial department to the business side so that, in the declining years of the newspaper age, the cow can be milked as thoroughly as it can be.
It’s also possible that out of it, new products that serve both journalism and the newspaper’s other customers — the advertisers — may emerge. Unless those new products are a huge drain on limited editorial resources, it’s possible they, too, can help fund the serious journalism.
It will, at the very least, be fun to watch.
Update: Alan Mutter has a related piece this morning, Ad guys in newsroom may not be so bad. A sampling:
But maybe – just maybe – this isn’t such a bad idea. Instead of the advertising people infecting news coverage, maybe – just maybe – the creative energy and constructive skepticism of the newsroom will rub off on the ad guys, who sorely need all the help they can get.
Alan’s piece is good, as are the comments.