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Monday, March 19, 2007

Newspaper Union Leader: Should News-Writing Mix With Ad-Writing?

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Bernie Lunzer is the secretary-treasurer of the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents thousands of the nation's reporters, editors and photographers, and he says news writers may soon be required to produce advertising copy in order to hang onto their jobs. Lunzer wonders if such a shift will destroy the credibility of an industry that has long tried to maintain a wall between news and commercial operations. He said the change could wreck the trust people place in newspapers "as the very essence of our craft is drained of all meaning."

The Guild represents newspaper workers at The Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal and the Toledo Blade.

Lunzer said some corporations that publish newspapers -- he cited USA Today's parent Gannett Co. Inc. -- have already taken steps to use news writers as content providers for special advertising sections that tie stories directly to ads. He considers it a coming trend that carries risk.

"Destroying the credibility of current news content won't move the ball forward. The credibility of print media is second to none, earned through decades of diligent hard work, and we the workers can't simply sit back and watch it destroyed in a thoughtless embrace of new technologies and an unseemly scramble to preserve unsustainable profit margins. We know that blogs, citizen journalism, and opinion-oriented news media like Fox News are radically shifting the landscape, as are all the Web 2.0 ideas that continue shaping interactive digital information.

"We're not above writing advertising copy, which is a craft unto itself, and we understand the need to be open to new ideas. But we cannot be passive bystanders as the very essence of our craft is drained off all meaning."

He said the Guild has commissioned a study with the University of Maryland to survey newspaper union members about the future of their profession. Lunzer's commentary is HERE, and it's a warning that what seems printed as news could really be gussied up commercial content intended to plug some product or service.

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