May 2, 2018

"It's a mess. It's horrible."

That’s Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, reacting to the newspaper’s front page Wednesday — two stories on gun violence, juxtaposed with the image of a gun in an advertisement for a gun show.

It’s the nightmare every editor worries about.

This juxtaposition, for which the paper promptly apologized and later declared a moratorium on all gun ads, is worse on two levels: 1) The Sun Sentinel already had a policy of no gun ads on its front page; and 2) It is the home newspaper and has done strong reporting of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, just 11 miles due west from the newspaper’s offices.

The ad appeared on the bottom of a page that included stories on a Parkland victims fund and the guilty plea of another mass shooter, the man who killed five people at Fort Lauderdale-International Airport in January 2017.

Gun ad

“We understand how the juxtaposition of certain ads and news stories can appear extremely insensitive, and we failed to prevent such a juxtaposition today,” publisher Nancy Meyer said in a statement. “We are taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

In a tweet, Anderson, the paper’s new editor who has encouraged strong follow-up reporting on the Feb. 14 school massacre, called the front page “personally devastating” as well. A new desk policy instituted Wednesday requires all front-page proofs — early full-page copies — to be in hard copy so that the entire page can be seen at a glance, Anderson told Poynter. On a closed Facebook site, alums noted that the business side should have given editors a heads up on a controversial front-page ad.

The Sun Sentinel’s swift public response was praised by one irate reader, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among those killed in Parkland. He reported the front page after 9 a.m. and got quick, personal responses.

"I'm really pleased, actually," Guttenberg told the Miami New Times. "Someone made a really stupid error, or at least I'm assuming it was an error. They did more than apologize; they actually put a moratorium in place on more gun advertising."

Guttenberg hopes the paper makes the temporary gun ad moratorium permanent. Anderson said the newspaper was open to discussing that.

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