Tribune considering ads on section fronts

Phil Rosenthal
Contact ReporterTribune media columnist

With the traditional media business under increasing pressure to boost revenue, newspapers are finding it harder to ignore the value of their most coveted real estate.

The Wall Street Journal announced this week it will sell ad space on its front page in September, joining USA Today and many foreign newspapers. The move could net tens of millions annually for the second-largest U.S. paper.

It could also clear the way for other U.S. newspapers, which are losing readers and struggling with revenue in a difficult advertising climate, to follow suit.

The Chicago Tribune does not intend to sell ads on the front of its main news section. But having earlier this month reported a 4 percent year-over-year decline in second-quarter revenue, the paper is "actively considering and near a decision on some new ad positions [that] likely will include some of the section fronts," Tribune Publisher and Chief Executive David Hiller said Wednesday.

The move would be similar to a decision last month at The New York Times to carry ads on the front of its business section.

"At some point you have to ask yourself if it's better to have an ad on a section front, or would it be better to do away with the section?" Hiller said. "The choices are that real."

The back page of Tribune sections that currently carry no advertising may become available to advertisers as well.

Ads in these spaces could start appearing in the paper as soon as next month, according to Ken DePaola, the Tribune's senior vice president of advertising.

"No one knows how the readers are going to respond, and we're very sensitive to that," DePaola said. "We don't want to wake up one day and have a different paper. We want to transition it."

Already, the Tribune's free RedEye edition sometimes has iNotes, which are Post-it-like ads, stuck on its cover.

Media historian James Baughman, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism & Mass Communications, noted that front-page newspaper ads were common in the 19th Century.

But "in the early 20th Century, newspapers were such an efficient advertising vehicle" the balance of power was such that publishers and editors could turn away the premium potential front-page advertisers might pay, he said.

With papers losing classified advertising, and readers, to the Internet, that pendulum has swung back--hard.

"What a lot of people still don't get is how frantic advertisers are to find new venues to get their message out," Baughman said, noting it's "a given" how frantic newspapers are to bring in cash.

"As someone who loves quality journalism, my concern is whether it will affect the product," Baughman said. "If it's going to help support the product, if it's going to help sustain the product, I don't have a problem with it."


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