Audit Notes: WSJ ‘leeway’ for Suzanne Somers, NYT ads, John Henry

The paper entrusts fact-checking to the factually challenged

Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon follows up on The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Somers fiasco, asking the paper’s Larry Rout, who runs the special sections group that puts out “The Experts”, how this could happen (emphasis mine):

These folks largely take on “weighty topics,” Rout writes, citing hedge-fund advertising, information security and education costs. “We do occasionally touch on lifestyle issues, such as how entrepreneurs can best maintain a work-life balance or book recommendations for retirees.”

The site’s editors “review every post, editing them for clarity and sending them back to the authors for rewriting when needed,” Rout writes. “That said, they are considered opinion pieces, and the writers have leeway in expressing their views.” The blog’s writers “are expected to adhere to the Journal’s guidelines, which include fully fact checking every piece,” Rout writes.

There’s a fundamental problem with that. When you ask washed-up celebs to write for you in a bid to lure clicks, at least get ones who actually believe in facts. Expecting a crackpot snakeoil pitchwoman like Suzanne Somers to fact-check her own column is nuts.

Beyond that, don’t call people “experts” who are anti-experts. And fact-check people who aren’t trained journalists who you enlist to write for you.

— Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee reports on the state of The New York Times’s advertising department. It’s not good, obviously, which is why Bloomberg—of all places—should have come up with a better headline than “New York Times Struggles to Replace Print Ads With Digital Sales.”

Bloomberg reports that Times pays ad staff wages that are far less than average and thus has a hard time recruiting good salespeople.

Then it gives them pitiful expense budgets to schmooze with ad buyers. Forget the ol’ wine and dine. The venerable New York Times does Coke and pizza.

The ad department is grappling with smaller expense budgets, making it more difficult to woo clients, according to the people with knowledge of the company’s workings. While different sales departments have different policies, some teams now have expense budgets of as little as a 10th of 1 percent of their annual sales, two of the people said. That means a group bringing in $60 million in annual advertising could have an expense budget of less than $60,000.

Some sales reps have taken to buying client lunches out of pocket as a way to maintain appearances, the people said. In other cases, they’ve ordered pizza to the office, rather than paying for a customer lunch at a restaurant. Travel to meet clients outside of New York also has been scaled back, according to the people.

It takes money to make money.

Boston Globe owner John Henry says all the right things in a piece explaining why he bought the struggling paper:

Truth is, I prefer to think that I have joined the Globe, not purchased it, because great institutions, public and private, have stewards, not owners. Stewardship carries obligations and responsibilities to citizens first and foremost — not to shareholders. This is especially true for news organizations…

… I grew to believe that New England is a better place with a healthy, vibrant Globe. When the Times put the Globe up for sale this winter, I resumed my studies. I soon realized that one of the key things the paper needed in order to prosper was private, local ownership, passionate about its mission. And so decisions about The Boston Globe are now being made here in Boston. The obligation is now to readers and local residents, not to distant shareholders. This, ideally, will foster even bolder and more creative thinking throughout the organization, which is critical in an industry under so much stress.

Now I see The Boston Globe and all that it represents as another great Boston institution that is worth fighting for. There isn’t a clear financial model for the news business in the future. Thus, some people have expressed puzzlement about this investment because they expect that the purchase of a business is based on the pursuit of profit. But this investment isn’t about profit at all. It’s about sustainability. Any great paper, the Globe included, must generate enough revenue to support its vital mission.

Read the whole thing. The big question is what kind of investment Henry will make in making the paper indispensable. Let’s hope he’s been paying attention to Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz in Orange County.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,