Monday, July 09, 2012

BAR Admits Front-Page
was Wells Fargo Wrap-Around Ad

The most important piece of a newspaper's real estate is the front-page, and in the past decade mainstream and gay papers have sold medium-sized box or banner ads at the bottom of page one. Such advertising on the front-page, once unthinkable when publishing wasn't facing diminished profits because of the web, is now common.

What's not common is selling off the entire page one space reserved for news to a bank ad, but that's exactly what San Francisco's weekly gay Bay Area Reporter did the week before the Pride parade. Not only that, but the BAR omitted a disclosure that the ad headlined "Wells Fargo celebrates 25 years of involvement in the LGBT community" was advertising.

How the hell could the BAR publisher Thomas Horn and editor Cynthia Laird toss their disclosure responsibility out the window? Were they not the least bit afraid that some readers, especially Pride visitors picking up the paper for the first time, would confuse the paid content from Wells Fargo as a news article? Did Horn and Laird debate how the ad and lack of disclosure might jeopardize their credibility?

One reader, Ron Schmidt of San Francisco, wrote in last week and complained about this matter:

Having participated in a number of demonstrations against banks that have foreclosed on homes during this ongoing financial crisis, I was stunned at the June 14 faux cover of the Bay Area Reporter shouting "Wells Fargo Celebrates 25 Years of Involvement in the LGBT Community." That the B.A.R. allowed itself to be co-opted in this way is disillusioning. Wells Fargo deserves credit for its community involvement, but this faux front page is a distortion that begs for balance. 

How many of the hundreds of families foreclosed on by Wells Fargo qualify as members of the LGBTQ community or its extended family members? How many of us are hurting because of the bailout we gave the too big to fail banks? This cover was a painful distortion for many of us.

How did the paper respond to Schmidt's concerns and questions? Laird, apparently acting as if each word cost a million bucks, had this terse reply:

Just to be clear, the Wells Fargo wrap around the B.A.R. was a paid advertisement, which should have been noted.

OK, let's give Laird credit for this brief explanation but could she have gone a step further and apologize to readers for the disclosure failure, and promise to clearly denote front-page ads in the future? Yes, but she probably just wants the matter to go away, and publisher Horn needs to keep advertisers happy and their dollars flowing into the BAR's bank account.

Kudos to Schmidt for taking the paper to task because if he hadn't, there would have no admission of error from the BAR.


Marke B. said...

I think it was pretty obvious to all that this was a wraparound ad, Michael -- it hardly read as an article. (Also, the Examiner sells full front page ads all the time.) I don't think it was a matter of "admitting" although a disclosure notice was indeed absolutely necessary.

What's more concerning is that Wells Fargo took credit for an "action" that was actually legally enforced upon ALL businesses operating within the city ... it's like restaurants taking credit for making larger bathrooms to accommodate people with disabilities ...

Michael said...

there are so many angles and questions to this.

the wrap around ad itself, wells fargo's toxic impact on many folks including queers while doling out a few bucks in gay ads or community sponsorships, the BAR failing to say it was an ad, why it took schmidt's letter to get laird to 'fess up, etc etc.

really, how the hell did so many at the BAR fail to notice the lack of disclosure before sending that edition off to the printer??