Exchange with local paper about advertising


From December 2004…

Dear Sir/Madam

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Lanyon (Letters, December 9) – the Evening

News’s coverage of the expansion of budget flights from Norwich International Airport is extremely biased, favouring the short-term interests of business over long-term concerns about the environment.

Could this unbalanced coverage be down to advertising? The national and regional press in this country are almost totally dependent on advertising for their survival – with approximately 70% of their revenue coming from this source. This reliance tends to create a politically conservative media who are afraid to offend the very corporations that fund them. For example, on the same day as Mr Lanyon’s letter, the Evening News carried two holiday advertisements. The first (on page 5) was for the Island of Sicily, flights "direct from Norwich from ?479". The second (on page 53) was the "Evening News Reader Travel" offer, advertising "USA from just ?299".

There is clearly a clash of interests for the Evening News on this issue.

Yours faithfully,

Ian Sinclair

Dear Mr Sinclair,
Thanks for your letter, which we won’t be publishing.
With your misguided interpretation of how the Evening News operates, it is little surprise you think we are biased in favour of ‘business’. We are biased – in favour of the people of Norwich. You might not like the ability to fly to an increased number of destinations from the city, but I can assure you most of our readers appreciate the opportunity offered by an increase in the number of budget flights.
Yes, there is a benefit to business in the county. Great. We at the Evening News are delighted by increased inward investment, jobs and opportunities for the people who live here. Your so-called ‘short-term interests of business’ are, in fact, the long-term interests of the county. Unfortunate as it may seem to you, Norwich is part of the twenty first century and that is the world we have to live in. You might fancy some kind of pre-industrial revolution la la land where we all use horse and carts and mill our own
bread, by hand, but, in case you hadn’t noticed, modern life isn’t like that.
What particularly amuses me is that you accuse us of being biased, but in reality it is you who is by far the more one-eyed. Wanting the best for the city and the people who live here is not mutually exclusive of caring for the environment. We might not wear our environmental colours on our sleeves with the glib abandon that would satisfy you, but we have campaigned frequently on real, day-to-day, environmental issues which affect the city (abandoned cars, fridge mountains, dog mess, fly-tipping, the future of our parks, wildlife, the future of the Broads and many more).
But what really irks me is your ignorance of how we operate as journalists. To suggest that because we take advertisements we are in the thrall of advertisers betrays a massive ignorance of how we work. The sales department and the editorial teams are separate and we never make decisions on the basis of how it would affect advertisers. Advertisers use newspapers as a vehicle for their products because they get a response, not because we write nice stories about them. A quick glance through any edition of the Evening News will reveal any number of stories which are not favourable about ‘corporations’.
We here at the Evening News are not ‘politically conservative’ in any way shape or form, despite the claptrap you might read in some media analysis textbook. We have people with a huge variety of political views, but one thing they all have in common is a passionate belief in this city and a desire to see Norwich thrive to the benefit of all who live here.
So, no, there is no clash of interests for the Evening News on this issue.
Yours sincerely, Tim Williams, deputy editor, Evening News

Dear Mr Williams,

Thank you for your prompt and extensive reply to my letter.

Although we obviously disagree on fundamental issues, could you explain why you have decided not to publish my letter? Judging by your reaction, it would obviously prompt debate and get a reaction from readers. It concerns a local issue. It is contemporary. It also represents the view of a section (admittedly, most likely a minority) of the residents of Norwich.
As the paper is unwilling to be critical on this issue, surely the letters page is exactly where it should appear?

Also, although you disagree strongly with my analysis, could you tell me what percentage of the Evening News’s revenue comes from advertising?

Many thanks for your detailed reply.

Merry Christmas,

Ian Sinclair

Dear Mr Sinclair,
We won’t publish your letter because, despite being happy to run your letters 90 per cent of the time, this one accuses the Evening News of being influenced by, and taking decisions because of, the interests of business. Were your letter to say you were opposed to the airport’s increase in budget flights because of environmental concerns, we’d be happy with it. But you don’t say that, you say the Evening News is only reporting the story because we take money from holiday firms. Which is downright wrong. Incidentally, I could quite easily argue the letter is defamatory. It is libellous to say the Evening News is misleading readers for financial gain. And we never publish letters, whatever the subject, which are defamatory.

As for your point about our revenue. The answer is that I don’t know the figure exactly, but it is roughly two thirds from advertising (not the same as national newspapers which is considerably less than ours, while ours is obviously considerably less than free publications). However, that is not the point about your analysis with which I took issue. I take issue with you leaping to the conclusion that because we earn revenue from advertising we are somehow obliged to be nice to our advertisers. We’re not. We regularly upset advertisers with stories about them which are less than complimentary. The reality of our industry is that we deliver an audience, which is what the advertiser wants. We can only deliver that audience by being editorially independent. Loss of independence means loss of credibility and hence readers. Thus you are not able to deliver the audience the advertiser wants.
That is the point.
Yours sincerely, Tim Williams

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