Thursday, April 09, 2009

L.A. Times Runs Fake News Story on Front Page; Part of NBC's "Southland" Campaign

Get ready for a new round of fire aimed at the Los Angeles Times, as Thursday's front page ad promoting NBC's new John Wells cop drama "Southland" is sure to be controversial.

As I write in Variety:

The front page of Thursday’s Los Angeles Times is expected to include a major feature story on LAPD cop Ben Sherman, chronicling the rookie’s rough first day on the job.

It’s not unlike the kind of personality profiles that frequently grace the newspaper’s “Column One” feature. But Sherman, however, isn’t real – he’s the lead character in NBC’s “Southland,” played by thesp Benjamin McKenzie.

And the story itself isn’t really a story – it’s part of a large, six-column ad that will appear under the fold of the L.A. Times’ front page.

The fake news story – which will run in the first column, much like those regular L.A. Times stories – is in a different typeface and style than the paper’s normal content. It will also be marked as an advertisement.

But that won’t likely placate the newspaper’s critics, many of whom have taken the L.A. Times to task in the past for blurring the line between editorial and advertising.

NBC Entertainment marketing president tells me that the Los Angeles Times ad department approached the network about doing the campaign: “We thought it was an interesting, provocative, breakthrough idea,” he says. “Treating a fictional story in an editorial context for Angelenos inside the L.A. Times connected to our show.”

NBC knows the move will drum up some controversy -- and the paper is said to be bracing for some fallout as well. It'll be interesting to see how all of this plays on Romenesko and other journalism sites.

Check out the rest of the story here.

UPDATE: Now that I've seen the ad, I'm at least pretty confident that readers won't confuse it for a real story -- it's right under the NBC Peacock logo, it's in a different typeface, and it's connected to the "Southland" ad. But the ad itself... well, it's not attractive at all and really clashes with the rest of the page. (That may be the point.)

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