UMass Daily Collegian Runs Advertisement Across Entire Front Page

The Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst attracted some blogerrific and social mediatastic attention late last week for publishing an issue featuring an advertisement splashed across the ENTIRE front page. The full-color ad from UMass Amherst Residential Life runs directly underneath the paper’s flag. It features teasers for some unique student housing options.

Top editor Stephen Hewitt confirms the front-page ad decision presented an “ethical conundrum” for Collegian staff and was ultimately approved as “an innovative tactic to help aid our funding.” According to Hewitt, the paper fairly recently cut copies from its regular print run and eliminated its Friday edition as cost-saving measures.

As he shares in a note to readers:

“It’s not a secret that revenue numbers, and particularly print advertising revenue, are declining at newspapers across the country. This trend is affecting newspapers, big or small, and even at the college level. So although the Collegian is in a rather uniquely fortunate position, with a community that remains vested in supporting collegiate journalism and truly values our daily missions, we’d be lying if we said times weren’t a bit tough and all is not so quiet on the financial front.”

1

Hewitt says more full-page ads are a possibility in the future, though their high price-point may prevent many advertisers from seeking them out. In addition, he confirms staff would have pushed the current ad off the cover if big news had broken prior to deadline.

2The most prominent reactions to the ad at the moment are from individuals identifying themselves as former Collegian editors, some still in the journalism business. As Romenesko noticed, they are sharing concerns on a public Facebook thread.

On spec, their criticisms and questions fall into several camps — including respect for the tough choices that must be made within a challenging financial landscape and curiosity about whether different benchmarks might apply for an ad chosen for the front versus an inside page. (“At least they’re not advertising guns or tobacco products above the fold. They still have some standards.”)

Most, it appear, would not have run the ad on the ENTIRE front page, suggesting the Collegian consider a spadea or spine wrap instead.

A sampling of their comments:

“Papers of every stripe are struggling, mine included. Many now run ads on page one. None that I know of turn the entire page one over [to] an advertiser. Bad idea.”

“I completely empathize with the financial position the Collegian is in. Journalism is not cheap, and the newspaper model is becoming extinct. It was tough when I was a student editor eight years ago, and I can’t imagine how much more difficult it has become. That being said — I don’t know if having an ad covering the ENTIRE front page was the best idea.”

“If you said you were doing this to dramatize the plight of print newspapers, and it was only a one-time PR stunt, I would call it brilliant. But to actually consider it a part of an ongoing business model is misguided. … [P]lease keep a solid wall intact between editorial/news and advertising.”

“[T]he worst thing is the pain of seeing the paper’s slogan in the corner in this context: ‘A free and independent press.'”

“New Journalism was in vogue when we cut our teeth. If this is the new New Journalism, I’m moving to another planet.”

On running a wrap instead: “What an ominous word in this context, ‘wrap.’ That’s what they say when they’re done making a movie: The work is over, it’s finished, everybody can move on to other endeavors. The end.”

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