Wick Communications

An eye on juxtaposition

In Business on 26 Apr 2013 at 9:28 am


I’m not quite sure what to say about the image at top. It’s the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s story on the pressure-cooker bombings in Boston … above an ad for a sale on pressure cookers. Oh boy.

We will probably all agree this is, shall we say, less-than sensitive to the sensitivities of a nation on edge after the deadly bombings. Readers won’t be mollified by a cumbersome explanation of the separation of ad and news departments or that responsible eyeballs were elsewhere then the page was put together. They will simply think editors foolish.

And the Star-Tribune wasn’t alone. The New York Times heard from readers about an online ad that ran next to its coverage from the Boston bombings. (I was fascinated by the discussion in the column and the mere fact that the New York Times has something called a director of advertising acceptability. I think the ombudsman and ad guys are wrong; I would have erred on the side of sensitivity rather than commerce that day.)

Let’s carry it one step further. Have you ever run, say, a story about a cancer survivor on a page otherwise covered in obits, or maybe a story about the children’s theatrical production next to a story about a child predator? I’m sure I have done things like that in my long career.

In a way, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these juxtapositions. It is more a matter of tone and sensibility.

It is also a breakdown in packaging. I try to group school stories together. When possible, I put stories about the environment on the same page. In other words, I try to make navigation through the newspaper easier for readers with particular interests. And I try to keep really disparate things apart – like briefs full of children’s happenings and hardened crime stories. I think of it sort of like a color palette. Your living room may be earth tones; your bathroom pastels. …

These ad/story mixes are a little more problematic. Editors should know what ads are on the page when they are laying out stories and ad directors should look at pages once the stories are placed. One reason for that is to lessen the likelihood of something like the pressure-cooker problem at the Star-Tribune.

Consider it one more thing to think about.

— Clay


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