Hearst buckles under advertiser pressure

The Times Union caves after reader-response post dinged real estate agents

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything as craven as the Albany Times-Union’s capitulation to real estate agents after an article questioned their almighty wisdom.

Jim Romenesko reports that after this article ran on Sunday, real estate agents were “furious.” One, Anthony Gucciardo, killed his $10,000 advertising contract with the Hearst paper, Romenesko says.

It’s unclear if Gucciardo is representative of his peers’ outrage or a fragile-ego outlier. Certainly his superlative-laden bio is untouched in the Albany capital area:

Anthony has long been in a class by himself when it comes to being the business’ most successful, savvy and sought-after real estate broker in Upstate NY. His extensive laundry list of untouchable accolades and awards, and consistent, multi-times-over status as Remax’s untouched Salesperson of the Year has not only set him apart, but has set the standard.

Not just a laundry list of untouchable accolades and awards, but an extensive one!

Anyway, Gucciardo tells Romenesko that William Randolph Hearst’s great-grandson responded to this breach of real estate section protocol with alacrity:

On Monday, Times Union publisher George Hearst III interrupted his 3-week vacation to apologize to the real estate community for what he calls a “one-sided …unfortunate article.”

In a letter to area realtors, (Gucciardo read it to me), Hearst says the Times Union will run full page ads touting the value of real estate agents; the campaign started today and ends Sunday.

“Our intent is to show how important realtors and agents are to our community and how important you are to us,” writes Hearst. “We’ll right this wrong any way we can.”

If you’ve ever noticed how fluffy most newspapers’ “Homes” sections are, stocked as they are with what are essentially advertorial features, this is why. You’re not going to see much hard-hitting news there.

Hearst III said the article was “one-sided,” but compiling reader quotes is well within reason for the Hamster Wheel model of newspaper journalism. The Twitter bio of the post’s author, Kristi Barlette, says she’s the “Social media strategist, columnist, reporter, radio contributor and Web video host with the Times Union.” Barlette has written 19 blog posts in the last week, not to mention 160 or so tweets and Facebook posts. Perhaps Hearst expects her to do 8,000 word investigations a la David Barstow too.

It’s also worth noting that those real estate sections were usually bad even in the good old days of newspapers. With the industry in a severely weakened state now, their ability to withstand advertiser pressure is far less than it was even five years ago. Those huge profit margins of yore at least gave papers the ability to stand on principle, even if it wasn’t always done. Any decrease in revenue now takes a paper closer to losing money than it used to.

With journalists asked to do much more with much less and with publishers operating from a position of weakness, we’ll only be seeing more of these fiascoes.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,