On ‘getting the word out’

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It happens every week: a cheery note in my inbox, or a pop-up Facebook message, or a text — each one imploring us to do the one thing we do best: Let people know about their business or event or promotion or service.

They ask us to run their press releases as if they were actual articles penned by actual journalists — a clear violation of the ethical guidelines for our profession. They ask us for a “little write-up,” which I find belittling to all the years of education and experience we’ve devoted to this industry. They ask for “sponsorship,” which generally means free ads — sometimes for events with million-dollar budgets — offering as compensation “exposure,” which is the bane of the true creative class, a false currency particularly for operations like this one in which exposure is our one and only product. Sometimes they dangle a few dollars in return for favorable stories, which, some of them say, they would be happy to write themselves.

I don’t really blame them. Newspapers were made to get the word out. It’s the whole point of the enterprise. And in this market in which we operate, I’m hard-pressed to think of a publication that does not do at least one of these things. For some of them, it is their entire business model.

But that’s not how it works in our shop.

At Triad City Beat — a newspaper created by journalists fed up with the corrupt state of the media in our cities — content drives advertising and never the other way around. It is our founding principle, the bulwark against insidious commercial interests that have as much interest in the ethics of our chosen profession as they do in watching the grass grow.

I tell them all the same thing: We don’t do that.

There is a cost in this stance, to be sure, in large and small amounts of money and, I believe, in reputation; a lot of people think I’m a jerk because of it.

But still I hold the line.

Because TCB exists for its readers, without whom there would be no point to anything we do. We won’t try to trick them or sell them out. We just won’t. We’d rather close.

And they, in turn, know that every story we publish is an actual story and not a commercial.