Who runs a newspaper ?

Not the editor,  it appears.  I can’t  see  any  newspaper editor  accepting the idea of a no-news , all-ad.  front page.  Going by the  incidence of   ad. alone  front page  in  newspapers nowadays  I would suggest  re-designation of  editor  as  ad-itor.  Gone are the days when the front page was reserved for news .  In print media those days  we dealt with news of three types –  news that is fit to print,  the one that made headlines,  and the Page One copy  (a news report is called copy in media parlance).  At the night news desk  we had a copy-taster  whose job was to sort out Page One copy from rest of the day’s  news reports.  And a night editor put together the front-page with selected news reports.

At New Delhi Times House  (Bahadurshah Zafar Marg)  the news desk  (in late 1970s)  the night chief-subeditor  (Bhutalia,  Chagothra,  Khandhury or Sahaney) decided which news reports went on Page One,  their position on the page,  the size of heading,  and length of the text.  I have seen ad. managers  chasing the night chief-sub  for placing  an ad. they  received late for the edition.  If the chief-sub  okayed it ,  a news item or two were taken out  to accommodate the ad.  The decision was clearly the  editor’s  prerogative.  I don’t know how they sort out such issue nowadays.   There have been instances where I have witnessed the  editor jettisoning  a display advertisement from an edition   to make space for late  news development.

Till some years  back newspapers cared about reader preference ; and  readers  generally believed the front page was an exclusive preserve of news.  When Wall Street Journal first published a Page One Ad in  ‘the lower right hand corner of the front page ‘in July, 2006 the  publishers found it necessary to explain the development with a 10-paragrah statement , while assuring readers, the front page of the Journal will continue to include the same number of page-one  stories as it does currently.

Today’s newspapers print nothing but ad.  on front page.  With no word of  explanation to loyal readers.   But then  The Hindu edition  (in the photo)  had  a  second  ‘ front-page’  ,  presumably,  to please traditional readers.  It wouldn’t be long before,  I guess,   newspaper publishers  give up  the formality   of  printing  two  ‘ front-pages’  in a given  edition –  one for the advertiser and the other, to retain their loyal   readers.

But then  publishers or ad. executives  didn’t invent it.  It was an editor,  Herold Evans of  The Sunday Times ,  who set the precedent, of printing  a double front-page edition.  It happened in 1981 on the night when US President Ronald Reagan was shot at outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.   The Sunday Times, London,  of which Harry Evans was then editor,  received three photos – 1) of President Reagan looking at the gunman; 2) a photo of him being hit;  3) the one showing the injured President being bundled into a car.
Such dramatic pictures,  in action sequence,  called for bold and proper display. Editor Evans chose to  run all the three photos, running six columns wide down the page.  He also  decided to  run an entire  page on Reagan story.

“I ruled that the whole front page would be given to all the Reagan elements,  and I created a second  ‘front page’ in the normal Times style for other news,”  wrote the then editor of the Sunday Times,  London.
Referring to the Reagan story  in his book,  My Paper Chase ,  editor  Evans wrote it was a departure from the traditional Times  style,  ‘as dramatic as the event,  and I’m still proud of it today’.  The Sunday Times developed the same approach for other late-breaking news:  the Challenger shuttle explosionIsrael’s bombing raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor;  the assassination of Anwar Sadat ;  riots in London and Liverpool.

It  was a precedent the Sunday Times editor set for reporting dramatic news developments.  A precedent, he wrote, he was proud of.   I am not sure if Harry Evans would be all that pleased to learn that the precedent he set  is being adopted by our newspaper publishers  as ploy for  making money on big-ticket advertisements.