Passing through Midtown yesterday afternoon, you couldn't miss the noise and excitement produced by the Dominican Day Parade. I was outside Bryant Park, blocks away from where the parade began. Kids held balloons, young girls danced and screeched on the sidewalks, and almost everyone waved flags. Many people on the ground aimed hand-held video cameras at the floats to capture the celebration, and some aboard the floats returned the favor while videotaping the cheering crowd below.
I had to navigate around the streets that the police had blocked off to keep the crowds from blocking stores or making it impossible for observers like me to get by. I looked on for a few minutes to take it all in and to marvel at the cultural pride that was on display in the streets yesterday afternoon.
Since I don't speak Spanish, I didn't understand much of what was being played, sung or said by performers or attendees. One name I did recognize, though, was the New York Daily News that had a sponsored float crawling forward up Sixth Avenue. I thought it was both a nice gesture and some good publicity for the newspaper to reach out to Hispanic subscribers and readers and other Spanish speakers of New York City. I didn't stay long at the parade, but I got the sense that most of the other float sponsors were Spanish brands, networks and lesser-known companies and organizations.
Although I gave the Daily News credit yesterday for its participation in the parade, I couldn't help but ponder their motives this morning when I read the paper's article about the parade. I knew at the time that this was part of an effort to generate some good will and publicity within the Hispanic community; but, from the paper's coverage of the event, that sincere and smart effort can easily be perceived today as a opportunistic stunt.In the 165-word article, the reporter makes sure to mention the Daily News' float. In addition, there's a picture beside the story that features the float in action. It's evident that the paper is looking to capitalize on its participation through self-promotion.
This choice doesn't bother me as a conflict of interest or moral ambiguity. Rather, it is more simply a poor decision. Take my reaction at the time and compare it to how i feel now. The Daily News' float stood out for me in a positive way. They, and I, understood that thousands of New Yorkers would see the float roll by during the day. New advertisers might come aboard after seeing the newspaper demonstrate its place within the Hispanic community.
Kiko Rodriguez crooned from the Daily News float, waving at squealing girls.
That's smart thinking, especially for newspapers that are struggling to find advertising right now. I saluted the paper for both its outreach and for its creativity. But that praise doesn't feel deserving anymore, after I witnessed the way that the paper so blatantly used its appearance to paint its coverage of the event. It doesn't call into question the paper's intentions - since they were likely business-oriented in the first place - as much as it made me consider how much the paper was hoping to make back off its investment.
It wasn't enough that thousands of people saw the Daily News name move by at a snail's pace yesterday. They wished to reach thousands more online today who would turn to the newspaper for its coverage. As one of them, I recognized the paper's method of coverage not as a short summary of what occurred, but as a chance, within its own pages, to continue to publicize the Daily News' name. Not only does that seem greedy from a business standpoint, it demonstrates a failing in journalistic standards.
I would hope that a newspaper's sponsorship or involvement in an event would make a reporter covering the event more cautious as he approaches his story. In this case, I can't help but wonder if the newspaper would even have written about the parade at all had they it had its name attached. The writer could easily have omitted the paragraph about the Daily News, and the staff could have picked a different picture to run. My suspicion is, though, that they would have scratched the story otherwise.
As newspapers face increasingly tough times, and look for new ways to stay afloat, it's important to remember the service that they provide to communities. Newspapers shouldn't be treated as brands looking for publicity, hype and more bang for their buck. When that happens, newspaper articles begin to feel like marketing material. And that, I can assure you, is not what newspapers, or their writers, do best.