Lou Ziegler column: 'Gentlemen's club' ads outrage some readers
The phone rang fairly early on a Monday morning. A woman from North Dakota was on the line. She was, in a word, mad.
I didn't have a copy of the Sunday "Valley R&R" section next to me, when she directed me to look at page C3. That's where she said I could see a copy of "the advertisement."
The woman said she was concerned about the "PJ Night" advertisement at The Northern, which likes to refer to itself as a "Gentlemen's Club" in Fargo. The ad beckoned: "See what our staff and entertainers have on for you!"
The woman said she didn't think that kind of advertisement should be anywhere in the paper, let alone in a section where her daughter and other young people go to on Sunday to read about "brides and grooms."
The woman said she checked further into the Web site listed in the ad and that her exploring led her to "naked women." She urged the newspaper "not to let children see this on Sunday" and that if the ad had to run, put it in the Sports section.
Earlier this month, Forum Advertising Director James Boberg met with our Readers' Board to discuss the relationship between news and advertising.
Boberg will be the first to tell you not all ads that people try to place in The Forum make it into print. That's fodder for another column.
"We're not a public utility. We have the right to refuse any advertising we want."
What about the Northern?
Boberg said it is a recognized business in the community. He said his staff puts together the Northern ads from artwork it receives from The Northern.
During the Readers' Board, meeting he circulated advertising supplements from well-known department stores. All had ads for undergarments. Boberg showed how those slick, colored advertisements could be considered even racier than the Northern's ads.
"I don't want to be judge and jury," he told the Readers' Board.
It is important to know at most daily newspapers the news and advertising departments operate separately. That's the way it should be. When you start mixing advertising revenues with decisions about the way news is handled, all kinds of potential conflicts of interest are sure to arise.
Readers sometimes think the two are one. Another Northern complaint comes to mind as an example of that.
A few months ago, our newsroom's public editor, Dianna Baumann, received an e-mail about a Northern ad for "Topless Waitress Night."
The reader wrote, in part:
"Dianna, I find it hard to believe that a 'TOPLESS WAITRESS NIGHT' is something that The Forum wants to endorse to its readers? (I realize it is just an ad and not an article, but by even having it in your paper, it really does send 'a message' to us readers ...)
"Is having a topless waitress event in our community something that The Forum is proud of and wishes to endorse by advertising it? To be honest with you, I believe this ad begins to jeopardize the standard that The Forum has worked so hard to build and maintain. ...
"Dianna, would you please consider removing this ad from your excellent paper?
"To me (and I believe I speak for many responsible citizens in our Forum community), its inclusion hurts the quality and reputation of The Forum, as well as sends a message to readers here and abroad that topless waitress nights (and similar events) are something that we endorse as a community. I don't believe that is the case. Thank you for your consideration. ..."
The reader's e-mail was then shared with Boberg. I thought his full response was well worth sharing with you. He wrote:
"Thank you for your e-mail. We truly appreciate your comments both pro and con.
"I understand your concern regarding the advertising for The Northern. We have taken the position that The Northern, while it is objectionable to some, is a legal business operating in our community. To totally reject all advertising from a local business because some individuals find it objectionable would be taking a position of 'Judge and Jury.' We do not feel this would be a fair position, keeping all parties in mind.
"We do exercise the right to edit The Northern's content in the areas of wording and photographs, keeping in mind it is always a delicate balance between free speech issues and the limits of general public acceptability and sensibilities.
"Because we allow an advertiser to run an ad promoting their 'Topless Waitress Night,' does not signify endorsement by our newspaper. If you take a position where you feel we endorse every ad that runs in this newspaper, you then take the position that we agree with the pricing (stated or unstated) for every item advertised, that we endorse all religious sects or organizations, and that we endorse all political advertising. I can assure you that we do not.
"I understand your concern and respect your opinion."
In my opinion, that was well said.
Ziegler can be reached at email@example.com