February 5, 2019

A surprising response to the Washington Post Super Bowl ad

Surely, the Washington Post expected to get people talking by running a commercial during the Super Bowl. After all, creating a buzz is the whole point of airing an ad during the most-watched TV event of the year.

But it’s doubtful the Post could have expected the kind of pushback it is getting and, especially, where it is coming from. Washington Post staffers are the ones questioning whether the Post should have spent millions of dollars on a commercial instead of putting that money back into the newsroom in one form or another.

Several Post employees spoke out, but the words of Post national reporter Abigail Hauslohner probably best exemplify the frustration. In tweets that have been edited for clarity, Hauslohner wrote:

“I am proud to report for @washingtonpost. I’ve been shot at while on the job and I’ve run from airstrikes. I’ve been threatened with arrest. I’ve lost brilliant colleagues who were far less lucky. But we report because it matters; because an informed public makes informed decisions. I wish however, that I didn’t have to give up my vacation and sick days and go weeks without a salary in order to take leave with my infant daughter as I’m doing right now. Women reporters DO matter as much as male reporters, @JeffBezos. But we need your support. We need paid parental leave. And we need equal pay. The truth matters. Journalists need to be able to do their best work. They shouldn’t have to choose between work and family.’’

I contacted the Post to ask exactly how much was spent and about the criticism that the money could have been spent elsewhere. A Post spokesperson said the Post does not discuss financial matters. CNBC reported that CBS was getting $5.25 million for a 30-second spot. Because the Post ad ran for 60 seconds, it’s possible it cost upwards of $10 million.

No one can question that the commercial was well-done. With striking images and a narration by Tom Hanks, the ad sparked a sense of pride among those who practice a profession that has been under attack recently. Even non-journalists likely were moved by the message of how journalism matters in a democracy.

In a statement Monday, Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said the ad wasn’t meant to boost Post subscriptions. It was, he wrote, a message to support journalism and the dangers journalists face.

The Post has steadily increased the attention it has devoted to these causes,’’ Ryan wrote. “With an opportunity as big as the Super Bowl approaching, we decided to seize the opportunity to make this a milestone moment in our ongoing campaign.’’

It’s a worthwhile campaign, to be sure. But if the cost really was millions of dollars and it came at the expense of more pressing needs at the Post, it wasn’t worthwhile enough and well-intended as it might have been.

Odd how it all turned out. Standing up for journalism with a powerful ad was great PR for the Post. Except in its own newsroom.

Times-Picayune front page: try again

Monday’s front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (Courtesy the Newseum)

Combine middle-school humor with plenty of bitterness and what do you get? Monday’s front page of the Times-Picayune.

Because the Super Bowl was super boring and, mostly, because New Orleans still is ticked about a bad call that possibly denied the Saints from reaching the big game, the front page of the entire paper was blank except for these words:

Super Bowl? What Super Bowl?

Readers probably found such a front page cute and, certainly, the Times-Picayune got some national publicity out of its little stunt. But, ultimately, this is a disservice to the readers. Instead of a juvenile prank, how about doing what subscribers pay you to do and put actual news on the front page of the newspaper? It didn’t have to be Super Bowl related. There was plenty of other news in the world to inform readers.

Now, one might argue that after years of newspapers being criticized for being stodgy, boring and stuck in their ways, here was a newspaper trying something new, something fun, something provocative. What’s wrong with trying something different? And what’s wrong with connecting emotionally with readers also upset about the Saints?

Yeah, that all sounds good in theory. But when it’s your job to provide news, opinion and perspective, the worst thing you can do is give the readers … nothing. And, while we’re at it, it would seem the Times-Picayune forfeits the right to complain about the cost of newsprint when it wasted an entire front page like it did Monday.

Besides, the Saints had plenty of other opportunities to win the NFC Championship, so time to get over it already.

I should point out that the Super Bowl earned a 26.1 rating in New Orleans, the lowest of any market and the lowest for a Super Bowl ever in New Orleans. Not at all surprising since the city essentially boycotted the game.

The real MVP of the Super Bowl

CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson reports from the sideline during an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Speaking of the Super Bowl, it was such a dog of a game that the most exciting part (and best hustle) came after the game and the star was not a player. CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson gets our MVP vote for fighting off a thousand people to score a postgame, on-field interview with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“It was awesome,’’ Wolfson told the New York Post. “It was definitely a struggle. I joked that the game was an offensive struggle, so it was only appropriate that the winning interview was a struggle, too. That’s kind of why you do this job. I embrace it and I love it.’’


State of the Union fact-checking

Looking for fact checks on tonight’s State of the Union address? PolitiFact will be live tweeting during the address and the Democratic response. Then be sure to check its website shortly after the address for a full story.

In addition, PolitiFact is teaming up with the Washington Post, The Reporters’ Lab and to offer live fact-checking on the new FactStream app. Journalists from those outlets will provide real-time updates in two forms:

Ratings: Links to previously published fact-checks with ratings when the president repeats a claim that has been checked before.

Quick takes: Instant updates about a statement’s accuracy.

ESPN fallout

On Monday, I told you that ESPN had fired rising star Adnan Virk. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand broke the story, and wrote Virk was dismissed for leaking ESPN information to media outlets. Now Marchand has more to the story, including details of the actual firing and the specifics of the alleged leaks.

Marchand reports that Virk shared information about ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball’’ plans with a website called Awful Announcing. He also reported that Virk is considering legal action against ESPN. Lots of behind-the-scenes details in Marchand’s report, so check it out.

Big journalism winners

The Heising-Simons Foundation announced today that freelance journalists Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and Abe Streep are the 2019 recipients of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize for excellence in long-form, narrative or deep reporting about underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the American landscape. Both received $100,000.

Ghansah was recognized for a profile of Charlestown, South Carolina, church shooter Dylann Roof in GQ magazine and a feature on painter Henry Taylor in New York Magazine/Vulture.

Streep was recognized for a story in the New York Times about a high school basketball team from the Flathead Indian Reservation and a Harper’s magazine feature on a Syrian refugee family in Montana.

Making a difference

On Jan. 27, a report by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald found that donations weren’t coming in as expected for the victims of Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida panhandle in October. The donations for Hurricane Michael to three major charities (Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way) were well behind the donations for victims of other hurricanes to hit the South in recent years.

Since the report, donations have spiked. Bryan Taylor, president of the United Way of Northwest Florida, told the Times/Herald that his organization received approximately $16,200 in five days and nearly half of that came from those who said they read the report in the Times/Herald.

One donor wrote, “I realize this is a drop in the bucket, but I want you to know that this donation is a direct result of the January 27th article in the Tampa Bay Times.’’

“We’re so grateful for the overwhelming response,’’ Taylor told the Times/Herald.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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