Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Protecting a source – TU style

The Times Union jumps
to placate an advertiser

By David Baker
Posted Saturday Dec. 29, 2012

If there was any need for further evidence of how eager the management of the Times Union is to guard the image of its advertisers at the expense of its editorial content it came just before Christmas – at a cost to the paper likely in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The incident was not mentioned in the paper, but was reported by Jim Romanesko, a national blogger who writes about the media.

Here’s what happened:  Back in early December, the TU published a 24-page advertising section on real estate, filled with ads from real estate brokers, banks and home builders.  In that section – under the headline “Just skip it” – were comments about Realtors from readers that had been previously solicited by reporter Kristi Bartlette.

Some of these comments were less than flattering.  One reader said, “They [the Realtors] want the fastest sale more than the highest price.” Another said: “My dad is a Realtor.  I ignore him all the time.”

One Realtor, Anthony Gucciardo of Colonie who advertisers in the TU, was so angry that he immediately canceled a $13,000 contract for ads, according to a story in the Albany edition of The Business Review.

The management of the paper wasted no time in acting to deal with the potential loss of ad revenue:  Publisher George Hearst, III interrupted a vacation to write a letter apologizing to the real estate community, saying the article was “,” and “unfortunate.”

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

That righting the “wrong” consisted of the paper running a full-page ad from the National Association of Realtors promoting home ownership and Realtors four times in the following week.

Two days after the supplement appeared, the TU’s top management went to the Colonie headquarters of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors for a meeting with members of the association’s board. “The real estate brokers said they wanted to see stories that portray agents favorably,” The Business Review quoted the association’s chief  executive officer as saying.  One board member wanted Hearst’s letter published as an editorial but that request was not granted.

Gucciardo told The Business Review he was satisfied with the TU's response and would continue his contract with the paper.

The cost to the Times Union of buying back its advertisers is hard to determine.  But one independent advertising agent told the Review that running a full-page ad four times in the TU could cost as much as $78,000.

Neither Hearst nor TU editor Rex Smith would comment.  Smith – who regularly boasts in his column about his paper’s fearless and unstinting efforts to uncover and report the truth – told Romanesko in an e-mail: “We’re not going to have anything to say about this one.  Sorry.”

Provided with a link to this web page with its reporting of the TU’s wholesale suppression of news about medical-malpractice lawsuits filed against its advertisers, Gucciardo wrote in an e-mail:  “It’s rather interesting, especially that I’m aware of several of those medical lawsuits.”

The Romanesko post: