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Bob Cox

Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Welcome debate over political ads in newspapers

Posted: 11/22/2013 1:16 PM | Comments: 0

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It appears we’ve caused a bit of a stir today by selling advertising to the Liberal Party on the front of the Brandon Sun.

A full 4-page section purchased by the Liberals is wrapped around the Sun’s Friday edition in advance of the federal byelection in Brandon-Souris on Monday. The first thing readers see is Justin Trudeau’s smiling face.

I’ve seen the word "controversial" used in a number of tweets and blogs about the advertising. Some are a bit more graphic.

My own reaction? It’s fantastic that we actually have a controversy over political advertising in a daily newspaper.

Political parties, federally and provincially, abandoned newspaper advertising almost entirely in the 1960s and 1970s and turned to TV as the primary way to reach large pools of voters.

I can show political strategists statistics on how our papers attract massive audiences in their markets, larger than TV or radio stations. I can demonstrate the effectiveness of newspaper advertising. I can show that newspaper readers are, in fact, the most likely audience to actually go to the polls on election day.

And the advice of those strategists to their political parties will remain the same: buy TV.

So it’s refreshing to see the use of newspapers by political parties.

During the Nova Scotia election, the NDP bought the front page of the free daily Metro paper in Halifax. During the British Columbia election, the provincial Liberals did the same with the free daily 24 Hours in Vancouver.

Both instances attracted criticism of the papers by those who said the ads could be confused as editorial content and looked like the papers were simply running favorable stories on the political parties.

That’s a fair comment and certainly worth debating. Newspapers should have to defend their policies on accepting political advertising.

At FP Newspapers, publisher of both the Brandon Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press, we accept political advertising on the same terms and in the same positions as we would any advertising.

We regularly sell wraps around our newspapers with the actual front page covered by what is essentially an advertising flyer. These have been used to promote everything from hospital lotteries to grocery stores. We do not allow advertisers to disguise themselves or make the ad appear like it is editorial content.

It does not mean the Brandon Sun is making special efforts to try to elect Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale. The wrap on the Sun was a product offering that was available to all other candidates as well.

We have also sold advertising to the Conservative Party during the current byelections in Manitoba. Conservative Ted Falk has a full panel ad on the front page of this week’s edition of the Steinbach Carillon, in the heart of the Provencher riding which also has a byelection on Monday. Liberal candidate Terry Hayward had the same ad position last week. This is a regular ad position that we will sell to other advertisers in the future.

Incidentally, this ad position is a recent addition to the Carillon. All newspapers are adding new ad positions and offering new ways for advertisers to reach people in what is an increasingly crowded media world where it is more and more difficult to get anyone's attention.

Many advertisers have found front-page positions to be very effective. Lotteries that have used them report jumps in sales on days when they appear.

No doubt such effectiveness has aroused new interest in political parties in using newspaper advertising.

As a newspaper publisher, I’m happy about that, and happy to have any debates about political advertising that it may spur.

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