The fall-out continues from the Oregonian's decision to publish multiple No on 66/67 ads on the "spadea" - the front page wrap.
The presence of a political ad, especially one designed to appear to be from the newspaper itself, was particular jarring to many Oregonians. Having never seen a political ad there before, many of us wondered if there had been a policy against such ads. And now we have the answer.
Over at Oregon Media Central, Mitch Nelson reports that the Oregonian sales department did in fact have a policy prohibiting political advertising on the spadea -- a policy that was overridden by the paper's new publisher:
Pat McCormick, spokesperson for Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, says his organization inquired about the spadea before The Oregonian's January 4 "vote no" editorial. At the time, however, the paper's advertising department told them that The Oregonian did not accept political ads in the spadea format. After the editorial, McCormick says lobbyist Mark Nelson had the campaign's media-buying firm make another effort to secure the spadea, which they were successful at doing.
But while The Oregonian's endorsement was what prompted the campaign's second push for a spadea, publisher Chris Anderson repeatedly stressed to OMC that the paper's decision to run the ad "had nothing to do with the endorsement — not at all."
Anderson says that he and then-president Pat Stickel decided in December to accept political spadeas in the current election, before they made an endorsement, and he says they made the decision without discussing their editorial position. He says he does not know whether there had previously been a policy not to accept such ads.
But Mario van Dongen, director of sales and marketing at The Oregonian, says that there was indeed such a policy, and that the policy was his own. He says that the sales department would have known of the policy if someone had inquired with them, but that it was not a written company position that the president or publisher would necessarily have known about. He says that Stickel received an inquiry about a political ad on the spadea while Van Dongen was away, so, after consultation with Anderson, the decision to accept it was made without him.
Van Dongen opposed political spadeas because "a political ad might take advantage of the placement and make it look like it's a newspaper statement." He says controlling the content of a political ad is difficult, because it can become a slippery slope toward censoring it. McCormick says the negotiations they did have included matters such as the placement of the "paid advertisement" disclaimer, as well as an agreement that The Oregonian's logo would only appear on pages that also included a summary of the paper's editorial statement.
The Oregonian is a publication from a private for-profit entity. Legally, they can probably do whatever they want. But this behavior is shredding the newspaper's credibility much more than some of their earlier controversial moves - like endorsing George W. Bush in 2000 and Ron Saxton in 2006.
Having stopped regular delivery outside the metro area (which will almost surely vote Yes on 66 and 67), if this hit to their credibility is sustained long-term, it's hard to imagine they can afford the circulation hit.
One more thing: We've received multiple queries today from BlueOregon readers reporting they received a free newspaper today (wrapped with the latest No on 66/67 spadea) - despite not having a subscription to the Oregonian. So, dear readers, weigh in: did you get a free paper today? If so, let us know - and post your zip code. If this was a substantial "lit drop" throughout the region, this might get even more interesting.
Finally, if you're looking for a way to get involved and help with the final push this weekend, find a volunteer opportunity for Yes on 66 and 67 here.