Some media critics have never liked the idea that newspapers insulate their newsrooms from the business side of the operation. In the critic's mind, this unnatural division has created rooms full of dreamy, soft-headed writers and editors who, in their veal-like state, simply don't get the pressures real people (such as publishers and ad managers) face in the real world - as though prohibiting reporters from taking story ideas from the advertising staff makes them unable to comprehend where the money for paychecks come from.
Of course, journalists are no more ignorant about, or insensitive to, financial issues than anyone else who doesn't make enough money to have a mortgage or a diversified stock portfolio. It's not the line drawn around advertising that keeps journalists in the dark, it's insufficient salaries. If journalists aren't watching the market, it's because they can't afford to be in it.
But even that is a stereotype - one that holds truer for younger reporters; not so much for veterans who cover complicated financial matters, from area real estate and business deals to government budgets and pension funds.
Which is why the argument, made by some media watchers, that removing the wall separating business and news we will create an entrepreneurial journalists better able to hopscotch through the fractured mediascape, and keep their own publications thriving, is complete nonsense. Unemployment and shifting opportunities will inspire the so-called "entrepreneurial" journalist. But no reporter benefits from learning how to tie stories to big ad buys, or write compelling advertorials, or keep the "important people" happy. This isn't going to remake journalism more authentic or more valuable.
One way newspapers are accelerating the business-editorial mashup is to employ editor-publisher hybrids. Already big in MediaNews Group's LANG chain, the role seems to be catching on and is likely to trickle own the management ladder.
Michael Sigman at Huffington Post writes about some of the predictable consequences when business and editorial freely mix. His examples, including the recent Los Angeles Times' "Despicable" ad wrap and a firing at the Chicago Reader, drive home the point that when the wall is removed, only one side compromise and only one side benefits.
If publications want to blow up the boxes and rewrite the standards by which they operate, then by all means experiment - honestly and transparently - and see how readers react. But don't rationalize that it's going to lead to better coverage. Shifting/blurring the line is simply shifty/blurry ethics.