Last week, the Chicago Reader lost its longtime editor. Alison True, whose tenure with the Reader began in the '80s, was fired by the paper's corporate publisher for being--and I'm paraphrasing here--too old guard to see the paper into the future.
The corporate publisher who did the firing, Alison Draper, told Reader reporter Michael Miner that the editor of the Reader is expected "to work closely with sales to find innovative ways to take our fair share of the dollars that are shrinking and shrinking quickly." Miner went on to write that Draper said she wouldn't "'blur' the line between editorial and advertising, but she would 'push' it."
Boise Weekly and the Reader are both members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Staff from member papers gets together a couple of times a year to compare notes, toss back cocktails and learn from each other's mistakes and successes. Over the years, I've gotten to know many staffers at other AAN papers around the country and while I can't remember ever meeting True, chances are I did at some point.
I can't personally vouch for True's character. Nor can I say that I'm well informed about the Reader's editorial strength under True's editorship. Maybe she'd lost her edge. Maybe editorial was the paper's weak link. Maybe, after so many years, she just really needed to go. Maybe. But I doubt it.
Regardless of True's performance, one thing is not quite right about Draper's post-firing explanation: The idea that a paper's editor should take responsibility for the bottom line or that it's even OK to "push" the line between editorial and advertising. It's not OK. That line should be as demarcated and inflexible as the concrete that physically separates our sales and editorial departments at BWHQ.
Blurring the lines between editorial and advertising is called advertorial. It's not journalistic, it's not ethical to pass it off as editorial content and it's the public that loses when editorial integrity is compromised.
No matter how bad business was at BW during the heaviest part of the recession, we never once considered chipping away at the wall that separates our editorial and advertising departments. The day BW Publisher Sally Freeman announces her intention to "push" the line between editorial and sales will be the day I'll hand her my resignation. Thankfully, Freeman is BW's biggest protector of that line.