McGuire on Media

Web ads backfire, Harte makes sense and gussets present problem

Let’s  talk about some things that are close to my heart….

The first is a real pip. If it doesn’t show how ethically bankrupt the idea of placing textual word ads in news stories really is, then you can’t be convinced.

In this article on today about a presidential poll sponsored by the Walter Cronkite School and Channel 8, the words Arizona State University are highlighted with green underlines. Go ahead, click on it and find yourself taken to an ad for It is difficult to tell, but my best guess is this is an ad for the University of Phoenix.  It certainly is not an ad for Arizona State.

I first brought this ad scheme to light on this blog last fall. At the time officials told me that the ad links were a part of a test and that during the test  the ads would not appear in news stories. It would appear the test is over and good sense lost. Not only is this link in an important news story about a presidential poll, the key words actually lead you to a competitor of the organization mentioned.

So Arizona State invests money in a poll for the good of society and to get its name out in front of the public. The Arizona Republic, through its online site, not only  exploits an important news story and an important institution in the community, it uses that story to gain ad dollars and promote a competitor of Arizona State. That is distortion plain and simple. It is not right and it can not be justified. It is a perfect example of why news stories can not and should not be for sale.


I have been away from the Star Tribune editorship for over 5 years, and I have not been enthused about a lot of things that have occurred at the paper in the last couple of years. At first blush, I must say Publisher Chris Harte’s letter to the staff impressed me.

The numbers Harte used resonated for me as ugly, but true.  There were a few surprises, but using my knowledge of what existed in 2002 when I left the paper and all the indicators I’ve seen since, I believe the situation is exactly as dire as Harte described. Where I think Harte showed he has learned from his short stay in Minneapolis is his choice for a consulting firm.

If Restructuring Associates is the firm Harte describes, and if it is the the firm the mission statement describes, Harte has realized he cannot transform the Star Tribune with brute force.  Assuming the words are not window dressing, RAI sounds like an outfit that is going to use the tremendous expertise of the paper’s staff and unions  to figure out a viable win-win future for everyone.

For the first time, I have some hope Avista understands the Minneapolis environment and wants to work cooperatively to build a genuine future for the Star Tribune and, by example, other newspaper companies. The idea that newspaper executives know all the solutions is naive.  Only by involving an experienced quality workforce, like the one at the Star Tribune, are newspaper companies going to have any shot at all of finding some sort of promised land.


I have been one of the legion who believed The Star Tribune had a real shot at a Pulitzer for its excellent coverage of the I-35 bridge collapse. That shot is not gone, but David Brauer’s piece on MinnPost concerning the coverage of the gussets, now determined as the probable cause of the collapse did real damage to those hopes.

Brauer’s piece is painstakingly detailed about which paper in the Twin Cities said what about the gussets, and when.  His facts make a reader wonder if the Strib made a bet on the cause of the collapse and lost.  The Strib and the PiPress should be very proud of its work on the bridge collapse, but Brauer also deserves to be incredibly proud of his illuminating piece on the ongoing news coverage war in the Twin Cities.