An advertisement that appeared to be the front page of The Times took readers by surprise Wednesday morning. Many of them called or sent e-mails to protest the fake news reports of vandalism and murder at NBC in Burbank. As of noon, The Times had received 61 e-mails, all but one of them critical, and 51 phone calls.
The ad, which readers discovered after unfolding the page, was for the TV show “Law & Order Los Angeles.” The actual front page, with a lead story about the debate between gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, was just behind the ad.
Nancy Sullivan, The Times’ vice president for communications, said: “The Times collaborated with NBC to launch ‘Law & Order Los Angeles’ in a big, creative way for the hometown audience. This is an exciting, innovative ad that takes the show’s beloved, 20-year ‘ripped from the headlines’ concept and puts it front and center for Southern California.”
Here is a sampling of the reader response:
“The Times stooped to a new low in its business practices today (Sept. 29) when it published a wrap-around advertising section for the NBC TV network, disguised as the newspaper’s front page. Yes, the fake news section was marked ‘advertisement,’ and yes, your company needs advertising revenue in order to survive. But if the Times and other American newspapers are ever going to reverse the trend of declining readership, it is essential for newspapers to be taken seriously by their reading audience.”
–James W. Ragsdale, Newport Beach
“We were punked. The ad’s intent was, of course, to get people to look at it, an intent which was achieved. But it also very much offended me, one of your last faithful subscribers.”
–Sandy Sudweeks, Costa Mesa
“To wrap the paper in an advertisement for a TV show is making a mockery of the actual news this paper is supposed to report. I have enjoyed many thoughtful journalistic articles by Times writers through the years. But I can only imagine the frustration of the fine reporters on the staff, to be reduced to a billboard for a fictional TV show.”
— Miriam Ellis, La Canada
“Since when does the L.A. Times run fake news stories under its valued masthead? Or should I say ‘once-valued’ masthead?”
— Rhys Thomas, Valley Glen
“Today’s paper has a full page ad with a fake headline and police tape over NBC. I work in Burbank, and every single person in our office and stopped and picked up the paper in concern. It is in extremely poor taste and offensive for those who have been victims of non-fake violent crimes.”
— Cynthia Appel, Los Angeles
“Let me be one of the first to express my total support for ad revenue any way you can get it, including selling a cover of your front page, presumably for an unusually large sum of money. I hope all Times readers realize the financial pressures on all print media today and, like me, hope the day never comes when we have to get our Times on a digital reader.”
— Jim Carroll, Burbank
This column was published on LATimes.com on Sept. 29, 2010.