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Sunday Sun Hits New Low

by Alice Cherbonnier
I almost didn't recognize the June 17 Sunday Sun because its front page looked like a full page color advertisement. And indeed, in a way it was.
We've been on a 'news diet' at our house for the past few days, having cancelled The Sun before a brief vacation and not resuming delivery since. Our local paid-for daily, you see, is our primary source for local and state news, obituaries, grocery circulars, comics, movie reviews, coming events, weather predictions, and crime reports.

Like candy and sugar-laden sodas, this is info that may be useful or interesting, but it's not the essential, healthful 'protein' and 'whole grain' news and investigative reporting that a citizen needs most. For this, we've come to rely on the Internet and on such other publications as The Economist, The American Prospect, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, and (believe it or not) The Wall Street Journal (whose news reporting can be peerless, but whose head-in-the-sand Neanderthal editorial pages are just plain awful).

Still, doing without that habitual daily fix of mostly junk news plopped on the driveway is tough. And so, this past Saturday afternoon, I went off in quest of The Sunday Sun, despite my husband's protests that "It's a waste of money—there's nothing in it worth reading."

In the local Barnes & Noble consignment emporium, I found one remaining copy of the early edition of the paper, dated Sunday, June 17. I almost didn't recognize it, because its front page looked like a full page color advertisement. And indeed, in a way it was—it was nearly totally covered by a lurid-looking story called "Coupons keep luring customers; businesses learn lesson the hard way."

What a pitiful fall from grace for a newspaper that was formerly one of the nation's foremost dailies! The lengthy story is a total no-brainer--of course people clip coupons to save money. Duh! So why run such a story so prominently?

Well, first off, it gave the newspaper the chance to mention one of its primary advertisers—Macy's—not once, not twice, but ten times. Giant, a longtime stalwart advertiser, got two mentions. Other favored retailers were mentioned once apiece. The 'news hook': people want coupons. The subtext: 'Hey, you advertisers, you need to offer coupons. And guess what—people expect their coupons to be on paper, so remember how important The Sun can be in your marketing plans." The story doesn't mention that the Sunday Sun is a primary source of coupons, especially in the two pounds of advertising circulars encased in the 'news' wrapper. Guess that would have been too obvious.

This peculiar "news" story was relegated to the business section in the later edition that appeared the following morning; but for 24 hours, the big news for Baltimoreans was that businesses that cut back on offering coupons do so at their peril.

One might also say that newspapers that cut back on offering news do so at their peril.

What a waste of trees.

Alice Cherbonnier is the Managing Editor of this newspaper.

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This story was published on June 19, 2007.