OPINION: Political mailer confuses readers, threatens newspaper’s credibilityA newspaper’s flag is a representation of a newspaper’s credibility and brand. It is a newspaper’s trademark. It tells those who read the newspaper that the publisher stands behind the information found in the newspaper.
By: David Bordewyk, South Dakota Newspaper Association
Every day and every week, newspapers package and publish news, information and advertisements in a product that is made available to the public. A common piece in all of it is the name of the newspaper. The newspaper name almost always dominates the top of the front page of the printed newspaper or the top of the newspaper’s website. In the newspaper business, we call it the “flag” or the “nameplate.” But it is much more than just a newspaper name.
A newspaper’s flag is a representation of a newspaper’s credibility and brand. It is a newspaper’s trademark. It tells those who read the newspaper that the publisher stands behind the information found in the newspaper.
In short, a newspaper flag conveys instant familiarity and connection for those who read it. It’s a powerful thing.
So it is no wonder some southeastern South Dakota residents were confused when they received a political campaign piece in the mail just before the Nov. 6 election that looked very similar to a local weekly newspaper. The campaign mailer included a flag that was similar in design and type style to the local weekly newspaper, the Dakota Dunes North Sioux City Times.
The campaign mailer, called the “Lincoln Union County Times,” was paid for by the Union County Republican Party, whose chairman is state Sen. Dan Lederman, as a promotional piece for GOP candidates.
Shortly after the campaign mailer showed up in mailboxes, Times Publisher Bruce Odson began receiving calls from local residents confused by it. Was his newspaper responsible for this campaign literature? Odson assured them he was not.
Nevertheless, the confusion was out there. A few days later, Odson published a frontpage story in his newspaper, telling readers that the real Times was not responsible for the political campaign “Times” and that he did not appreciate confusion by it or the apparent deception intended by those responsible.
Newspaper publishers take seriously their job of publishing accurate, fair information and building trust with their readers.
Businesses big and small invest millions of dollars to build and promote their image and brand. Ford’s blue oval. McDonald’s golden arches. Apple’s little apple. All designed to instantly connect with their customers.
Newspapers do the same thing with their flag. Most South Dakota newspapers have been conveying a connection with their readers and a sense of public trust via their newspaper flag for more than a century.
Any unauthorized use of that newspaper’s brand and trademark undermines that connection and trust. Apple would not like it if someone misused its iconic logo. South Dakota newspaper publishers don’t like it either when someone abuses the trust and connection they have worked hard to build with their readers and community.
It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And perhaps we should be flattered that a political campaign would emulate one of our newspapers to further its agenda. But the risk of confusing our readers and potentially weakening our credibility as an independent source of information is simply too steep a price to pay.
David Bordewyk is general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association. SDNA, founded in 1882 and based in Brookings, represents 130 weekly and daily newspapers with a total readership of more than 600,000.