Odd Thoughts: Tech and power of position

Technology can do nearly everything for us that we used to have to do for ourselves… including making mistakes we once left to circumstance.

The “news hole” of a newspaper, the portion devoted to news items, feature stories, opinion pieces, and anything else governed by the editors and the newsroom, has nearly always been produced independently of the advertising content.

Advertisers have often wanted their ads to appear on the same page with news or feature stories that they would deem favourable to their commercial enterprises.

The editor would balk at such a thing. Giving a businessman such an unfair advantage over competing advertisers would blacken the paper’s integrity.

Advertisers could not buy “position” at all. They couldn’t dictate, not even by offering to pay. Depending on when the ad copy was received and the size of the ad and the size of the paper and the sizes of the other ads… and a whole lot of other factors… it might run on the page three (a prime position) or on page 22 (definitely not a prime position).

Back then, no one could buy advertising space on the front page. That space that belonged only to the newspaper, and for the sake of integrity, was not for sale.

Advertisers also tried to pull strings to keep ads from appearing next to an unfavourable story – or leverage such stories out of existence.

Many times I had to explain to convicted felons their advertising budgets were not going to hide the truth from readers.

Even people who had never advertised with us threatened to pull their advertising if the story of their errant behaviour was published.

While such stories would not be killed for a buck, the editor in charge of placement of stories wouldn’t know which ads were running where, so we couldn’t put a story next to an ad to either boost or blast an advertiser, even if we wanted.

Both for ethical and logistical reasons, the left hand seldom knew what the right hand was doing.

Today, a birth announcement next to a wedding write-up for the same couple wouldn’t raise many eyebrows. But years ago, such an accidental placement raised threats of a lawsuit.

I was amused by an online story about a Florida lawyer disbarred for having sex with “too many” of her clients in jail, accompanied by an ad for an “experienced criminal lawyer” in Vancouver – placed together from across a continent.



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