Walking the mission statement walk: A media case in point
My attention was caught by an ad (see below) which, by date at least, appropriately ran on April 1, 2011 in The Business Journal (serving Greater Milwaukee). The question it raised at IB, however, was whether or not an anti-Wisconsin economic development ad was appropriate to have run on April Fools’ or any day in a pro-business publication.
State of Illinois DCEO ad that ran in The Business Journal (Milwaukee) page A2, 4/1/2011
A newspaper, we agreed, okay – take the ad revenue. Newspapers today aren’t business-devoted or business-centered publications. But IB would not have accepted this ad campaign because it undermines the work we are doing with partners in Dane County and at the state level to support and build economic development in this great state. It was perceived as counterproductive even by our top sales guy, who noted that such an ad blatantly chips away at the mission of area job creation that our business community embraces.
Ad censorship is a hammer that we very seldom wield at IB, but there are instances where we do not accept ads due to our corporate pro-business values, even when the advertiser is a legitimate business offering cash payment for the campaign. For example, we don’t accept ads from venues advertising payroll-loan services. We won’t be part of touting 30%-interest loans for people who can’t afford checking accounts; end of conversation.
Values-based decisions are always hard to make and apply, however, as there are so many shades of gray. We’ve taken state lottery ads, which did not sit well with one employee because, as he said, there is more than one way to skin a poor cat. That person felt the lottery fell in the same group with payroll loans, but ultimately we didn’t split a hair quite that fine. We perceive a lottery ticket as representing a choice – good or poor – for how to use discretionary money. A payroll loan typically is made out of desperation, not hope or choice.
News coverage is an entirely different situation.
Editorially, we can’t tolerate any censorship of facts. If a reputable study by an independent party shows Illinois outdoes Wisconsin in business performance or environment, it is reported in our Business Report and, also, oftentimes through our radio show when we book guests such as Todd Berry, watchdog for Wisconsin taxpayers. We don’t shy away from controversy or honest dialogue. Editorial opinions, on the other hand, are marked as such (i.e., as columns or blogs) and in that instance, those are personal opinions expressed by the writer, just as I’m expressing my opinion now: I think The Business Journal should have passed on the anti-Wisconsin ad revenue.
A hard lesson
I learned a lesson, as lessons are usually learned, the hard way. Many years ago, I invited readers to critique area businesses and we printed the reviews – good and bad – in my column. I’d gone on a rant/rage against Charter’s “customer service” at the time, and we got about 70 emails in response. So I extended the column to invite readers to tell what irked or pleased them.
One writer said wonderful things about Gas Station A, more or less at the expense of a similar business (let’s call it Gas Station B), which was located a block away and served as the “comparison.” The comments, surface level, didn’t seem mean-spirited, so the anecdote and the (required) writer’s name were published. Then the owner of Gas Station B wrote to tell me that the commenter actually was related to the owner of Gas Station A, and he took me to task about not walking my pro-business walk. And he was right. “Ouch.” My ego took a well-landed blow, and from that day forward, I weigh more heavily what I convert into print.
A pro-business walk isn’t always taken on smooth terrain. Editorially, it oftentimes puts us squarely at odds with politicians on both sides of the fence who think if they just dick around with the free market for awhile they can “fix” the economy. It compels us to take to task disreputable (though sometimes “legitimate”) business owners who, by their actions, create lots of later regulatory hassles for people who didn’t need regulating in the first place. It sadly puts us at odds sometimes with well-meaning people who have their own great agendas, too – agendas many of us might personally agree with – but by definition their agendas would slow down economic development for reasons we can’t, as a business magazine, get behind.
What do you think?
And then there is the advertising end of the business, with paid messages. In that case, reader, you are the product, not the customer. The customer is the person who wants to put his or her message before x number of you, based on a cost-per-unit of 1,000 of you. However, there still is a filter that IB uses – the one with a definite pro-business curve to it.
Should TBJ have accepted the ad or not? What do you think?
Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.