January 22nd, 2010 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Spadea Work: Oregonian Refuses, Then Accepts Pro-Tax Ad

N. Christian Anderson

If Oregonians get nothing else out of the Jan. 26 election on Measures 66 and 67, they now know an arcane newspaper term for an ad wrapped around the daily paper.

They may also have learned something about standards at the Northwest's largest newspaper.

To recap, on Jan. 17, opponents of Measures 66 and 67 bought a "spadea" that trumpeted The Oregonian's editorial endorsement of a "No" vote on the two tax increases. That ad surprised many readers because the O hadn't sold the spadea space before to political advertisers. And as the Oregon Media Central blog reported last night, the O initially refused to accept an ad from the "No" campaign, only to reverse that decision after editorializing against the measures. (The O ran a second spadea from the "No" side on Jan. 20 and a third one today.)

On Jan. 21, Kevin Looper, campaign manager for proponents of the "Yes" side, submitted a spadea ad that included at least two passages critical of the O's new publisher, N. Christian Anderson III.

The Yes on 66 and 67 ad noted that prior to Anderson's hiring on Oct. 26, 2009, the paper's editorial board had expressed sentiments about the tax increases — that if not supportive — were certainly not negative.

"Before it changed publishers, the Oregonian seemed to have it right," said the ad copy Looper submitted on Jan. 21.

The ad also presented three claims the "No" side makes that Oregonian news reporters have debunked.

"Why is the Oregonian ignoring its own reporting?" the draft ad asked. "It seems there is a new boss in town. And it doesn't seem like our Oregonian any more."

Looper and an Oregonian ad rep then wrangled over the ad copy in an email exchange.

"On the front page, where it states Before It Changed Publishers, it should be corrected to read Before its editorial opposing Measure 66 & 67, The Oregonian ...." the ad rep requested.

"On the back page, the copy block with the headline of Then Why Is The Oregonian Ignoring Its Own Reporting? needs to be reconstructed or replaced. completely eliminated as this is false and misleading. The publisher was not involved. We decline to accept the personal reference to the publisher. With respect to your view that we are rejecting your claims about the errors in the opponents' ads, please be assured that we are not asking you to change any of that copy."

Interestingly, the third spadea from the "No" side that ran in today's Oregonian included two oft-repeated figures that Oregonian reporters have found to be false and misleading: the claims that passage of the measures will cost "70,000 jobs" and a claim that lawmakers gave public employees a "$259 million" raise. In fact, The Oregonian's independent analysis found the measures are likely to cause the loss of fewer than 5,000 jobs and the "$259 million" figure comes from a raise granted in the 2007 legislative session, not the 2009 recession and has been verfied by the Legislative Fiscal Office, which tracks state spending.

Looper pushed back in an email:
I find it incomprehensible that the Oregonian could maintain that we are being in any way misleading to question the role of your publisher in promoting the NO campaign position on measures 66 & 67. As a veteran of many political campaigns, I'm familiar with having to answer uncomfortable questions from newspapers. I am, however, wholly unfamiliar with newspapers trying to avoid having uncomfortable questions asked of them.

But ultimately, Looper agreed to the changes. The resulting ad, which will run in Saturday's paper, contains no reference, direct or indirect to Anderson.

Anderson is no stranger to controversy over spadeas.

In 1999, USA Today shocked the staid newspaper industry by selling ads on its front page, a practice long ago abandoned. In a story about the ensuing controversy, the American Journalism Review magazine solicited Anderson's view:
N. Christian Anderson III, publisher and CEO of the Orange County Register, says his paper intends to keep its front page reserved for news in spite of the attraction of added revenue. The decision will be weighed carefully by publishers market by market to see if the promise is worth the risk of alienating readers, he says.

"For a USA Today reader, these ads won't be a big deal," says Anderson, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "They might even expect to see them. They also see big dollar signs." But, he adds, "We think we know what our readers want. I don't think they want ads on the front page."

In Anderson's defense, that quote came two recessions ago and before the newspaper business began resembling the U.S. auto industry.

Ballots for the two measures, which are actually the important issue here, are due by 8 pm on Jan. 26.
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