The stated rationale for The Seattle Times Company's financing of newspaper ads for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and the Aprrove R-74 campaign is that this whole thing represents a powerful demonstration project.
The company says it's trying to prove that "in-paper advertising IS an effective means for campaigns to deliver their messages to voters." Okay.
But yesterday, when I asked Times Company spokeswoman Jill Mackie how the paper would set out to prove the effectiveness of the ads it's providing these campaigns—in the case of McKenna, print ads every day until Election Day, worth nearly $80,000—she didn't respond. (For just about every other question thrown at Mackie yesterday, it was a different story.)
Think about it: Isn't one of the fundamental problems with print newspaper advertising the fact that you really can't measure how many people are looking at any given print ad? (Whereas online, you can measure exactly how many people are looking at ads, and learn a lot of other things about the lookers, too.) This hard reality has created a big, problematic mess for journalism and maybe even democracy too, since no one's yet figured out how to finance the reporting and reach of a big-city daily by just selling online ads—which don't cost, say, $80,000 for one-per-day until Election Day. But this is also old, old news to people in the newsprint business.
Maybe Frank Blethen has some brand new analytic process he's about to roll out to prove how many people look at political ads in newspapers and what they do in reaction. Or maybe Frank Blethen's just betting that McKenna and marriage equality will both win at the polls this November and he'll be able to say: "See, I don't need any fancy analytics to know that those newspaper ads worked! You really should buy more of them, political people."
Anyway, what if this whole experiment actually ends up measuring something else entirely?
What if it actually ends up telling us just how important the Seattle Times' branding as a non-partisan, "objective" news source is to its owners, its readers, and its reporters? Those are all very different groups of people, and we'll probably end up with somewhat different answers from each (the paper's reporters, for their part, are in the process of drafting a protest letter). But that's an experiment I'm more interested in seeing the results of than the one I've been told is underway.
UPDATE: In somewhat related news, Newsweek is ending its print publication and becoming an online-only magazine.