ADVERTISERS' INFLUENCE ON THE NEWS MEDIA IS WIDESPREAD
In 1995, the San Jose Mercury News almost went under because of a boycott by all of its car
company advertisers. Why were they so irate? The Merc had published an article telling
consumers how to negotiate a better price with car dealers.
When the executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, Larry Green, was challenged for
displaying editorial favoritism toward advertisers, he openly declared: "We have to take care of
Tales like this bubble up every once in a while, so it shouldn't come as a shock that advertisers
sometimes try to influence the news outlets that run their ads. The real shock is how often this
In its 2002 survey, the Project for Excellence in Journalism asked 103 local TV newsrooms
across the US about pressure from sponsors:
In all, 17 percent of news directors say that sponsors have discouraged them from pursuing
stories (compared to 18 percent last year), and 54 percent have been pressured to cover
stories about sponsors, up slightly from 47 percent last year.
Of the stations that investigated auto companies that were sponsors, half suffered economically
for it, usually by the withdrawal of advertising. One car company cancelled $1 million of ads it
had planned with a station. In a classic 1992 survey (that desperately needs to be repeated), Marquette University's
Department of Journalism tallied questionnaire results from 147 editors of daily newspapers.
Among the findings:
■ 93.2 percent said sponsors had "threatened to withdraw advertising from [the] paper because
of the content of the stories." (89 percent replied that the advertisers followed through on this
■ 89.9 percent responded that advertisers had "tried to influence the content of a news story or
■ 36.7 percent said that advertisers had "succeeded in influencing news or features in [the]
■ 71.4 percent said that "an advertiser tried to kill a story at [the] newspaper."
■ 55.1 percent revealed that they had gotten "pressure from within [the] paper to write or tailor
news stories to please advertisers."
In the decade since this poll, the media have become even more corporate and more
consolidated, so it's hard to imagine that the situation has improved.