Monday, December 01, 2008

A test of principles

In response to my distaste for early-morning Black Friday shopping, a commenter asks whether I would turn down on principle an ad from a retailer proclaiming an early-morning sale. The major chain retailers who specialize in such sales rarely advertise with local independents like us, but if they did, my answer would be, "Of course we'll take the ad." Just because I'm trying to talk the world into being a certain way doesn't mean I want to stop other people from trying to talk the world into being some other way. And they are welcome to pay me to get their message out.

A sterner test of principles came just last week. As reported here earlier, Town Pump has contracted with Lee Enterprises to control distribution of free publications in its stores. That contract, which went into effect today, is too rich for our blood, so you will no longer find the Outpost in any Town Pump locations.

As noted in the earlier post, Town Pump's decision does not mean that it won't continue to try to get free publicity from The Outpost for its various events. Just last week, in the very first issue that didn't go to Town Pump stores, we had a news release from the company about its charitable efforts.

Nice deal for the Town Pump people. We donate free space in the newspaper so they can tout their own generosity, then they expect us to pay them to distribute that free publicity in their stores. When I first heard that Town Pump had cut a deal with Lee, I thought, I will have to think long and hard before I ever run another free news release for Town Pump.

And I did think long and hard. But I ran it, even though the Town Pump customers it would most likely influence won't see it, at least not at the Town Pump. If any principle underlies this outfit, it's that advertising considerations don't influence news considerations. For the editor in me, that's an easy call. But the publisher in me raised holy hell.

Still, the editor did the right thing. So turn the temperature in Hell down a degree for me, will you?


Anonymous said...

Fair is fair David -

The next time they ask for free press, tell them they'll get the free press when you get your rack space back.

I don't see how Lee Enterprises can make any money distributing free publications though.

Are that many companies willing to 'rent' rack space from them to make it pay off?

JByrd said...

I my book, it is illegal restraint of trade for Lee Enterprises to enter into a contract with Town Pump that so adversely affects a competitor. Not to worry, though. Lee's stock is down to 80 cents, so they'll likely be in Chapter 11 by next spring. Town Pump's been subsidizing the circulation of at least one of Lee's Montana papers for years (Butte) so maybe they'll wind up owning the whole shebang.

Anonymous said...

You should have told Town Pump your position about the press release and the fact that they are expecting free space with not only no support of the publication but are actually working to make it more difficult for you to survive. There's a significant chance that they never thought of it like that -- it's amazing to me how little people understand the dynamics of the business world. I would say that once you point it out Town Pump might rethink their idea -- and that might be true if it were any other company but Town Pump has always struck me as being just plain "mean." They probably just did it for their own enjoyment.

Kirk Dooley said...

Personally I don't like it when publications run press releases. It would be better if said publication used a press release as a starting point for a reporter to do a story (trying to find a differing point of view if possible).

Having said that, Mr. Crisp, I must admit that I am not familiar with how the Outpost is structured. My guess is that you have very few reporters on staff (perhaps just the editor/publisher) for economic reasons (with a few free-lance writers when feasible). So it may be necessary to run releases verbatim. Fair enough.

In my line of work as a magazine reader for a major press clipping service, I saw more than a few publications where just about every story in them was a press release, and to my well-trained eye -- I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in broadcast communications, and know a press release when I see one -- I disliked those publications for running them word for word. However, one newspaper -- Construction Equipment Digest -- was creative about it. They gave the releases creative bylines; for example, a story about a certain well-known manufacturer would have the byline of "Kat E. Pillar."

My suggestion to you in this case is that after you run the story about this company's good works (which, of course, is nothing more than to raise goodwill and get folks to buy petrol and overpriced food at their stations), you attach an "Editor's Note," stating that The Outpost has been excluded from these stations for the reasons you have stated here. This might either get your racks in (unlikely) or have one less company looking for free advertising.