The headline in bold type on the Los Angeles Times' front page Thursday read: "Southland's Rookie Hero." The story, outlined with a thick black rule, recounts rookie police officer Ben Sherman's dramatic first day on the job. His day, the story read, "had not gone well."
At the end of their shift, Sherman and his partner, 20-year veteran John Cooper, answered a call and headed to a gangbangers gathering. When taking a suspect into custody, Cooper is shot. The rookie comes to Cooper's assistance, firing four shots into the assailant's chest, killing him.
It's the stuff of a television cop drama. Hey, wait a minute -- it is a cop drama!
In an unusual move for The Times, the paper ran an ad for the new NBC series "Southland" that strongly resembles a news story. The ad, which is labeled as such in small, light type at the top of the item along with the color NBC logo, is one column wide and appears on the bottom half of the page in the first column. Adjacent to it is a five-column banner ad touting the show's premiere tonight at 10 p.m.
The blog LAObserved.com reports that the ad's placement marks the "latest split" between L.A. Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein and his editors. Further, Peter Kafka, who writes the MediaMemo section of AllThingsDigital, reports that the newsroom's staff is circulating a petition firmly against the advertisement. More than 100 journalists have reportedly signed the petition, which in part reads: "We the journalists of the newsroom strenuously object to the decision to sell an ad, in the form of a phony news story, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. ... Our willingness to sell our most precious real estate to an advertiser is embarrassing and demoralizing."
A Times representative would not say how much NBC paid the newspaper for the ad, according to the Associated Press.
The Times, like many newspapers, has been plagued with financial problems as ad revenues plummet amid the recession. Tribune Co., owner of The Times, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.
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