Oregon Exchanges/Volume 5/Number 6
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For the Newspaper Men of the State of Oregon
HOW NEWSPAPERMEN ARE CUTTING DOWN THEIR CHANCES FOR SUCCESS
By ROBERT W. SAWYER
Publisher Bend Bulletin
[Mr. Sawyer delivered the following address at the annual convention of the Oregon Editorial Association.]
"STANDING out against the various assortment of weeks for this and that and other free publicity propaganda from which the originator expects a proﬁt." That is rather a long-winded title for the subject assigned to me. I take it that our worthy president was, as usual, proceeding on high when he emitted that mouthful of words. With such an example before me I may be excused if I am verbose in what I have to say.
I know, however, that there is no verbosity in this statement, that the newspaper man who does not stand out against the kind of publicity referred to in this subject-title is making the biggest mistake of his life. He is doing an injury to his paper and to every other newspaper. He is being made an easy mark. He is cut ting his chances of proﬁt and success. He is helping to put and keep the newspaper business on a low plane.
This publicity is pro-bonehead publicity, and the man who uses it is the prize bonehead of the profession.
What has a newspaper to sell?
The answer is so old and so well known that I might expect you to throw your chairs at me for asking for it again. And yet the program committee thinks you need the information thrown at you or it would not have given me this subject.
We have to sell circulation and white space, circulation and white space; these two and nothing more. On our success in selling these two commodities depends the success of our newspapers. When we begin to give these commodities away we lessen our chances of success, or make such success as we may enjoy not so great as it ought to be.
My subject has wholly to do with white space. I do not touch on circulation except to point out in passing that the quality of the news furnished your readers may influence circulation for better or for worse. You must be careful, therefore, to give them news only, not propaganda with a slight coating of news. And that is one very good reason why we should stand out against free publicity propaganda.
The biggest aspect of the question, however, is in its relation to the white space which we have for sale. What are we to use this white space for? For news and for advertising. Our news columns are not for sale, so that the revenue from the sale of white space will come from the advertising we carry.
Now every day we go hunting for news and for advertising. And every day advertising disguised as news comes hunting us. Altogether too many of us are caught by it. It is the free publicity propaganda of my topic. It is a sad commentary on our newspaper and business intelligence that anyone should feel it necessary or anything but a waste of time to suggest talking about standing out against it. Already we should have stood out against it to such a degree that it was no longer offered to us.
This stuff is not advertising for which payment is to be made, although a checking copy is usually requested. Is it news? It is offered as news and it is asserted that our “readers will undoubtedly be interested in it.” To this question the answer depends on our definition of news. If the definition of anyone here is one that permits the running of this “publicity propaganda” as news, then I am not talking to him except to say that he is crazy and needs to revise his definition.
Many definitions of news have been attempted. For the present purpose the best I have seen is as follows:
“If the paper wants it worse than the person handing it in, it’s news.”
“If the person handing it in wants it published worse than the newspaper, it’s advertising.”
Agencies Don't Handle News
It may be that I am off my subject in that ex hypothesi we are not talking about news but about free publicity propaganda, but I know that there are some persons who call themselves newspaper men who run this stuff we are talking about, really thinking it is news. I ask them to apply the test I have just given. Who wants it published most’? And I ask them to take for granted that if the stuff comes from an advertising agency it is not news.
Someone gets paid for writing this stuff, someone is paying N. W. Ayer for pushing the Society for Visual Education and for telling us about Spanish green olives. The Nash car publicity and the Goodyear tire stuff from Los Angeles are both the product of the mercenary pen. If you get a mat you may bet your column rules that someone got some money for making it. Out of the kindness of some big heart overflowing with good will for the country publisher, all these people were hired to produce the stuff for you to run in your papers—free.
Ready to Pay if Necessary
You know that if these publicity hounds want their stuff run badly enough they will pay for it. But never in this world will they pay for it so long as they can find someone to run it without pay. I had my own lesson. It was some kind of motor grease week. The local Standard Oil agent had a nice story for each day, and I fell for the first one. That night the Oregonian came in with absolutely the same thing occupying a fine display space which I am fully persuaded was not given away for the purpose. Neither was any more space in the Bend Bulletin given away. It was about that time that I began to see the light. (The Standard Oil company is a great light-bringer anyway.) This light has been burning steadily in our office ever since.
You never think or talk about standing out against drinking polluted water, water that you know is polluted, nor of standing out against exposing yourself to disease germs, nor of standing out against prosperity. Why should we even think of having to stand out, to battle against, the free-publicity evil? If we run this propaganda it is because we are too lazy to get up the news that we need to fill our columns and because we fear lest we may be denied some paid advertising if we do not give favors.
Paper's Standard Raised
I know definitely that we have lost advertising because we refused free publicity. I know, too, that our news is on a higher plane because of our refusal to run this free publicity. So far as the loss of advertising is concerned I am prouder of that than of any advertising we ever carried because it marks an independence and the establishment of a standard that I believe every newspaper man must attain if his profession is to
(Continued on page 22.)