Monday, January 20, 2014

Product Placement News Reporting

Things are tough in the newspaper business these days.
     Ford tough.
     With Obamacare going down faster than Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office and taxes being raised more often than Miley Cyrus' twerking hiney, even the San Antonio Express-News is feeling the pinch, and, like every other business, is looking for new ways to bring in additional revenue.
     Our editor and senior vice-president, Mike Leary, called a few of us in to let us know just how tough things were.
     We--Gilbert Garcia, Roy Bragg, Brian Chasnoff, and myself--were informed that we were going to have to take a page from the entertainment industry and incorporate product placement into our columns and news stories, much like when an actor in a movie is seen smoking a particular brand of cigarette or a rapper naming a particular variety of pot.
     Gilbert Garcia, chewing on a delicious rolled taco he has flown in especially for him from the Chicos Tacos restaurant chain in El Paso, Texas, had a question.
     "Are you telling me that when I write about the Tea Party tea-baggers, I'll now have to refer to them as the Lipton tea-baggers?" he asked.
     "You bet your rusty trombone," our fearless leader answered.
     Brian Chasnoff, on the other hand, wanted to clarify the financial aspect of inserting these stealth commercials.
     "Is the city council going to want a cut?" he wondered.
     "Is this San Antonio or what?" Mr. Leary said, neither confirming or denying.
     But it was Roy Bragg who was the most practical.
     "Does this mean we're getting a lot of free stuff?" his inquiring mind wanted to know.
     "Of course not," Mr. Leary chastised... and then gave him a wink.
     I stood up, remembering a time, not so long ago, when I broke the Watergate scandal story for the Washington Post, and single-handedly brought down the Nixon administration.
     The legendary Harry Rosenfeld was my editor back then. With tears in his eyes he told me: "Jim, I hope that, in the future, you'll never have to compromise your principles. That would be a sad day, indeed."
     So, with his words in mind, I spoke.
     "I'm sorry, Mike," I said, "but I can't do that. I won't compromise the integrity of my news reportage."
     I slowly sat back down, and took a defiant bite out of my piping hot Egg McMuffin.
     Mr. Leary took a thoughtful final sip from his freshly brewed Maxwell House Coffee.
     "Ah," he sighed, contemplating the inside of his now empty cup. "That's good to the last drop."
     Then he turned to the four of us, but mainly to me.
     "What's also good," he told us, "is our new policy. I understand your concerns, but the reality is this: you'll do it or your fired."
     The others showed their solidarity by standing as far away from me as humanly possible without actually going through the wall into the other room. I could see that they had already helped themselves to the free donuts supplied to us by the good people at Dunkin' Donuts.
     I stood up and slammed the palms of my hands against the top of my editor's cluttered desk. Then I sat back down.
     "Okay," I said, folding faster than Superman on laundry day, "but can I have a Coca-Cola first?"
     "Why?" he asked, honestly curious.
     "Because," I answered, "things go better with Coke."
 
 
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