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Wall Street Journal Breaks With Tradition. It's Just Unclear Which One.

Posted by: Jon Fine on July 18, 2006

The Wall Street Journal will put an ad on its front page, beginning the third quarter of this year. (In other words: Soon.)

Size, in this case, matters, but Gordon Crovitz, the Journal’s publisher, told the Times it’s not yet set how big the ad will be. It will be square. It will appear on the lower right corner.

I don’t like this idea, but not for anything church-and-state-ish. The Journal’s front page is one of the few places that makes large swaths of print look pretty. I hate to see elegant design get messed up.

Katharine Seeley and Julie Bosman of the Times—which itself runs ads on certain section fronts—got an obligatory tut-tutting quote:

“As a traditionalist, I’m not thrilled by the idea,” said Bob Steele, who specializes in ethics and values at the Poynter Institute, which studies journalism. Front pages, he said, should be reserved for what the collective community considers to be news.

It’s worth remembering whenever journos pull out the wayback machine and hint of longstanding noble traditions that they’re, um, wrong. Insert the usual stuff—yellow journalism and Citizen Hearst; the bare-knuckled tabloid approach that defined American newspapers for decades before a Times-ian ideal of objectivity took root in the mid-20th century. But let me tell you a story.

A friend of mine is abroad, circa 1999, and visits one of London’s major dailies with a bunch of other college students. In one room, they have front pages from throughout the years plastered on the walls, illustrating various changes in how they presented the news.

The Brit giving the tour points to one and identifies it as coming from somewhere in the 19th century—a major advancement, this one, he says. It was when we started running news on Page One.

My friend, somewhat mystified, asks, well, what was on Page One if not the news?

The Brit pauses, and turns to him. Oh, these dense Yanks …

Advertising, he says.

Reader Comments

Kenji Hall

July 19, 2006 9:37 AM

Ah, so it's finally happening. The Japanese, it seems, had caved--or admitted to themselves the economic realities of running a newspaper--long ago. This country's dailies have been running ads on the front page for decades. I've only ever pulled papers dating back to the 1960s but, rest assured, front-page ads were around back then, too. On any given morning, I'll pull Japan's financial daily, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, from my mail box and in a fat border running along the bottom of the page is an ad peddling everything from books to energy drinks and cars, though often it's a B2B ad that's not appealing to the general consumer at all. Lately, I've grown so accustomed to them that my eyes will naturally scan down to the space they occupy. In time, I suspect that's what WSJ readers will find themselves doing, too.

Juan Giner

July 19, 2006 9:03 PM

Advertising rules US newspapers.

That is a fact.

See the design caos inside of any section.

And now we are concerned about the front page ads...

As I posted in our blog this is not new, it is not bad and if you worry about this extra income from premium positions, perhaps you need to do some traveling.

Greg Michael

July 25, 2006 11:18 PM

Mr. Fine,

Did the editorial executives "do the math?" By creating an ad opeinging on page one, their most loyal advertisers, perhaps Macy's will get the spot and just cut out one of their 3/4 page ads that would have been on page five.

J.J. Sullivan

August 3, 2006 8:00 PM

I started reading BW in 1960 & the WSJ a few years later. I get daily news & a weekly interpretation of what is new, important or just interesting.
All newspapers, magazines & business publications are suffering from a lack of printed page readers & the WSJ is one of the very few that is profitably selling online subscriptions.
I don't look forward to seeing advertising on the WSJ front page just like I don't apprecxiate having to flip through a half dozen BW pages to read the Table of Contents.
For many,many years it was great to open BW & find the Contents on p1, but like the WSJ, "Hey, it helps!'
Just like now publishing BusinessWEEK only 46x a year also help$.

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