In analyzing the "business/news integration" scheme, Berkeley journalism professor Alan Mutter writes that "maybe - just maybe - this isn't such a bad idea." He goes on:
Instead of the advertising people infecting news coverage, maybe – just maybe – the creative energy and constructive skepticism of the newsroom will rub off on the ad guys, who sorely need all the help they can get.Even if this were true, which I don't think it is, the first flaw is having the sales staff in charge of the journalists. If the Dallas Morning News switched this dynamic around, maybe there would be less to worry about. Maybe.
But there are better ways to "integrate" the news and business sides of a news organization without inviting corrupting forces into the newsroom. Management at the Dallas Morning News wants to cast all of this as a tension between advertisements and stories, and so they say that stories will not be written for or about advertisers. But the problem isn't so much what gets covered, it's what doesn't get covered - and that's much harder to measure.
What beats don't fit the integration plan? Which reporters don't get the resources to pursue certain lines of inquiry? Which story ideas get the stink eye from ad manager? I doubt that the outside advertisers will be the ones bringing pressure to bear, it's going to be the sales managers inside the paper. They are going to test what coverage draws in readers or ad money, and they will in turn make sure that the newsroom resources - and the niche products - are targeted in that direction.
All of which makes me wonder: If business is so bad you have to compromise fundamental principles, what exactly is it that you're trying to save?