The print edition of today’s Boston Globe includes a banner advertisement that appears above the nameplate at the very top of the page. The ad, for Boston Medical Center, promotes that institution’s addiction services. The placement is unusual enough to have prompted a message to the staff late Monday night from Globe editor Brian McGrory:
Just a heads up to everyone that we have an unorthodox ad on the front page of tomorrow’s print Globe. There’s a copy of it at the bottom of this email. As you’ll see, it’s the same shape and size as our regular strip ads on the front, but it’s at the top of the page rather than the bottom.
We didn’t permit this lightly. The cause of fighting addiction is a noble and vital one. The institution involved, the Boston Medical Center, plays an important role in our community on this and many other issues. And we don’t intend this to be a regular ad position. This is part of a larger campaign that is important to the ad client and significant to the Globe.
Any issues or questions, feel free to raise or ask. Otherwise, thanks as always for your commitment to great journalism.
The source who sent me a copy of McGrory’s message was none too happy about the ad. “Nothing should be above the name of the paper,” said the source, a Globe staff member who asked not to be identified. "Our name is like a guarantee of quality at the top of the page. It's our brand, on our product.” The ad is stirring up some controversy in the Boston Globe Subscribers group on Facebook as well.
The ad comes the day after the Globe published a front-page story by Sacha Pfeiffer on a $25 million gift from John and Eilene Grayken to Boston Medical Center to support the center's addiction-treatment programs. To be clear, it was a newsworthy development deserving of page-one treatment. As Pfeiffer's story notes, BMC serves a vulnerable low-income community, and its commitment to fighting the opioid crisis is worth highlighting.
So what are we to make of this? I start with the proposition that, in 2017, we should not treat print as though it is either superior or more sacred than digital. Globe.com at the moment is relatively ad-free—surprisingly so, since I would have thought that there would be an online version of the Boston Medical Center ad. But today’s NYTimes.com and washingtonpost.com include ads for Norton and Audi, respectively, that take up massive chunks of real estate between the nameplate and the content as well as on either side of the nameplate.
On the other hand, print subscribers are still a newspaper’s best, most lucrative customers. If they are put off by an ad at the top of the front page, then there’s a problem. No doubt folks at the Globe will be waiting to see if there is any negative reaction.