Friday, April 10, 2009

Is Eddy Hartenstein the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse?

Or Just a Pragmatist Trying to Keep The Los Angeles Times Breathing?

Don't get me wrong, I find the front-page ad that snaked up the left side of yesterday's Los Angeles Times just as odious as the next guy.

Even the Times seems to be holding its nose in its own story today of the controversy, when it noted: "The Times appears to be the first major U.S. newspaper in modern times to have run a front-page ad in a format that could be mistaken for a news story, said Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication."

So, with all the outcry over the ad for the new NBC show "Southland," Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein regrets the move. Not. "Because of the times that we're in, we have to look at all sorts of different -- and some would say innovative -- new solutions for our advertising clients," Hartenstein chirped, noting the ad garnered a "significant premium" from regular rates.

It's small comfort to know that Times Editor Russ Stanton objected to the ad, but wisely didn't throw himself under the train and quit in protest. As he's seen his staff sliced and diced by buyouts and layoffs, he knows there aren't any jobs out there. Better to fight from the inside than go on the dole as a martyr.

Granted, Hartenstein has the herculean task of trying to right the Times' finances when circulation and ads are like lemmings that have an appointment with the nearest cliff. That means if has to live dangerously, so be it.

I wouldn't put it past Hartenstein to pull a similar stunt again. What may hold him back, though, are the advertisers themselves, who might wind up with more bad press than the extra visibility of a front-page ad is worth. So long to that "significant premium." But then at least you wouldn't have to say so long to integrity.

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