Papers sell Obama gear . . . and their objectivity?*
There has been a lot of talk lately about whether the media have gone overboard in their reaction to the election of Barack Obama.
Howard Kurtz fretted this week in a Washington Post column about, as the headline said, "A Giddy Sense of Boosterism," surrounding Obama's Nov. 4 victory over Republican John McCain.
Kurtz cited breathless headlines, spiraling hyperbole (the New York Post touts a new "BAM-A-LOT," mirroring John F. Kennedy's Camelot) and giddy features about Michelle Obama's style.
Your Ticket blogger countered in a Los Angeles Times column this week that there was hype, yes, but also a stream of stories laying out the enormous challenges and pitfalls awaiting the president- elect.
But what about all the Obama gear that newspapers from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post are selling? Can you really hawk Obama T-shirts, coffee mugs, framed front pages and maintain ...
... any sense of journalistic impartiality?
Ron Hasse, director of circulation sales and marketing for the L.A. Times, told the Ticket that The Times had rung up $686,000 in sales of its Obama merchandise.
The big items now for sale reproduce the paper's Nov. 5 front page, headlined: "IT'S OBAMA" on an aluminum printing plate ($20), a mini-poster ($10) and, yes, the Nov. 5 paper itself ($2). Recently added were $10 T-shirts and coffee mugs. (Shipping and handling costs bump up the price of each.)
The New York Times offers similar gear, including its framed election front page with brass plating for $299.
A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how much the Gray Lady has raked in so far with its Obamaphernalia.
Newspaper folks feel like it's about time they figured out a way to make money, what with millions of dollars in ad revenue lost to Internet competitors. And most are confident that newsrooms can maintain objectivity, while marketing departments sell what they can at a moment of enormous public engagement.
Editors say the important thing is that they maintain control of the content of their papers and websites, with no influence from the marketing gang permitted. A similar "wall" has been maintained for decades between news and advertising departments, to assure that big advertisers don't sway coverage.
Expect at least one more wave of blowout Obama coverage on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. Many papers are planning special sections and they, no doubt, will end up splashed across all sorts of keychains, and ...
New York Times Editor Bill Keller said his paper's inauguration coverage will focus on news, not sentimentality.
"The story list will be compiled and scrubbed by editors, and while I hope it will do justice to the history of the occasion, I also intend it to be fluff-free," Keller wrote in an e-mail response to a query. "That said, I'd be delighted if we sold a lot of copies."
-- Jim Rainey
(* Oops, a slip of the fingers left Ron Hasse's first name appearing as Rose in an earlier version of this post.)