The Ad/Edit Wall Worn Down to a Warning Track

Two Sides Quit Bickering and Seek Ways to Navigate New Reality

By Published on .

Most Popular
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What wall? The question for print has become less about whether to cross the boundary between editorial and sales and more about how best to do it.

In the latest scene of church-and-state rapprochement, the new issue of Scholastic Parent & Child magazine has arrived with an ad page composed in collaboration with the magazine's editorial staff.

Sid Holt: 'Scholastic Parent & Child's defiance of industry norms is simply shameful.'
Sid Holt: 'Scholastic Parent & Child's defiance of industry norms is simply shameful.'
The collaboration runs counter to publishing norms. Keeping editorial separate is meant to reinforce readers' trust, which in turn is supposed to make publications more valuable venues for advertising.

A magazine industry group was dismayed. "Confusing editorial and advertising is a betrayal of the best interests of both readers and advertisers," said Sid Holt, CEO of the American Society of Magazine Editors. "Scholastic Parent & Child's defiance of industry norms is simply shameful."

The magazine defended its integrity. Editor in Chief Nick Friedman said he participated partly because the product, Curel Itch Defense lotion, was sound. A very sugary drink wouldn't get the same treatment, he suggested.

And when the magazine asked a panel of 2,500 readers about the ad before it ran, 92% called it informative and 97% said it wasn't confusing, according to Risa Crandall, VP at Scholastic Parents. "We know and research our readers better than anyone and never accept a new unit until we completely vet it with our paramount audience, the reader," she said.

Media watchdogs can complain, but you can expect more and more scenes like these as teamwork and case-by-case decisions increasingly replace the rule of thumb that held edit largely apart from business operations. However flexible the partition was in practice, and however its application varied from publication to publication, it's generally becoming less like a wall and more like a warning track.

As partnerships between editorial and business have bloomed particularly in the past 18 months, so has research into what readers expect and will accept, according to Brenda White, senior VP and publishing activation director at media agency Starcom Worldwide. "I've talked to many editors about this topic," she said. "They definitely protect their brands and, more importantly, they protect their consumers. I'm seeing a lot more research around from the magazines saying 'Hey, would our readers be open to X, Y, Z?'"

Everyone also needs to understand the other parts of their own publications, said Douglas Smith, executive director of The Punch Sulzberger Executive News Media Leadership Program at Columbia University. "At the very time you face an almost endless series of questions about the enterprise, you don't have general management experience or perspective as a given or even routine thing," he said. Talk in the Sulzberger program often turns to ways editors can work with others without undermining editorial values. "We've certainly seen a number of experiments that are going on that are clearly trying to preserve the journalistic values while at the same time doing the necessary innovation," Mr. Smith said. "The boundaries of what's permissible and not permissible are going to be explored."

At The Christian Science Monitor, whose top editorial and business executives have participated in the Sulzberger program, the two sides are trying to collaborate more often. "What we're doing is trying to remove the taboo about having a conversation across the wall and put various people -- not just the editor and publisher, but deputy editors and national editors -- and put them in conversation with the business people, and say rather than never talk, go and talk," said John Yemma, editor of The Monitor.

As a practical matter, that's meant sharing some turf. When Mr. Yemma first arrived a year and a half ago, the website's developers worked for the editorial department. "That is a bad way of doing things," he said. "Developers should be working for the publishing side, with editorial perhaps having a say." And when The Monitor recently needed to hire a new online editor, which once would have been almost entirely the editor's purview, Mr. Yemma and managing publisher Jonathan Wells worked together on the choice from the beginning.

"We're trying to make a business here, not play 'These are my toys on the editorial side and those are his toys on the business side,'" Mr. Yemma said. The new specifics aren't going to be the same for everyone. Fashion magazines always operated differently than metro daily newspapers, and that hasn't changed. But the wall was almost a privilege of simpler times, more editors and publishers seem to agree.

"I don't think we have the luxury any more of being isolated," said Bob Yates, deputy managing editor for sports at the Dallas Morning News, which drew curiosity and some criticism last December for assigning some editors, including Mr. Yates, to report directly to new general managers on the business side. The change hasn't affected editorial coverage, he said, but has helped it seize editorial opportunities and get sponsors more quickly.

Follow Nat Ives on Twitter.

In this article: