Editorial: Audiences first, then advertisers

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Shame on BP. And shame on Morgan Stanley, and General Motors and any other advertisers involved in assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media its value to advertisers to begin with.

Most of all, shame on all those who stand by quietly as editorial integrity is eroded, whether the media agencies that help implement pull-ad policies and hide behind the phrase "common practice" or the publishers and editors too timid to speak up against those who pay the bills. (And where are the trade associations, which should take a stand in support of editorial independence?)

Yes, every advertiser has the right to decide where to place its budget, and the right not to support a media property it believes has treated it unfairly or with disregard to facts. And it's clear why airlines would want to avoid ads appearing alongside coverage of air disasters. But that's different from the kind of insidious approach taken by advertisers that unreasonably demand to know whenever a publication is writing, in positive or negative terms, about a company, its rivals or its entire industry, as BP did with its "zero-tolerance policy," or demand to see edit in advance. It's also different than GM making a public example out of the Los Angeles Times to send a not-so-subtle signal to the rest of the media marketplace about the consequences of tough coverage of its problems.

The primary reasons for advertisers to invest in any media product should be the bond that product has with its audience and the relevance of that audience as a marketing target. Such relationships are often based on trust and credibility. Tools such as pull-ad policies can damage that credibility. They make clear to editors and publishers that if they don't create an editorial environment friendly to a marketer's message, the money will go elsewhere.

Marketers should encourage media outlets to serve audiences first, not advertisers. Those that attract the right audience should get the ad dollars. Shame on anyone who believes otherwise.

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