Newspaper Atones for Ad’s Bad Tone

Thom Weidlich 06.25.20


With everything confronting newspapers these days, including a pandemic and the death of their business model, it’s notable that one — The Tennessean — could present us this week with a laudable crisis response. And this was a crisis that sprung internally, offering the publication no one to blame but itself.

On Sunday, June 21, the Nashville newspaper ran a full-page anti-Muslim ad that referred to an impending nuclear attack by “Islam.” It was sponsored by an Arkansas-based evangelical group called Future for America that is reportedly centered on apocalyptic preaching.

The group had run a similar ad (it didn’t mention Islam) in The Tennessean on Wednesday, June 17, and also ran notices on the paper’s website.

It was pretty clear that the newspaper had ignored internal processes and guidelines, which forbid hate speech. It was especially bad because Future for America admitted that other newspapers had rejected the campaign.

Before the Sunday ad was published, three staffers “had the opportunity to review the ad in its entirety,” but the sales and design teams didn’t read the full content, according to Kathy Jack-Romero, local sales president for Gannett, The Tennessean’s parent. One employee raised concerns, but a manager approved the copy anyway without reading all of it.

That was the crisis the newspaper had to communicate when the story broke on Sunday: Its processes had failed.

The paper sprang into action. It yanked the online ads and said the print version would be pulled from future editions. It launched an investigation. “Two ads ran this week in the Tennessean that clearly violate our advertising standards,” Kevin Gentzel, Gannett’s president of marketing solutions and chief revenue officer, wrote in a tweet on Sunday. Tennessean editor Michael A. Anastasi and local sales leader Ryan Kedzierski also denounced the ad.

Quick Probe

The probe was conducted quickly. On Monday, the newspaper and Gannett said they had fired the advertising manager. One bad thing: This news came from The Tennessean’s own article, which doesn’t name the manager; we couldn’t find an official statement.

The company also said it would increase its diversity training and donate the $14,000 from the ad sale, and an additional $50,000 advertising credit, to a Nashville-based Muslim advocacy group.

That’s a lot of action and a fair amount of money to try to make amends. Good crisis response.

“We have completed our review, taken action against the manager responsible, strengthened our processes to ensure this never happens again, and taken steps to mitigate the tremendous harm caused to the community,” Jack-Romero was quoted by the paper.

The Sunday ad also referenced prophesies from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spurring that denomination to issue its own statement rejecting the ad and any connection to the group that paid for it.

“The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife,” the church said. “We soundly reject these hateful and dishonest words.”

Photo Credit: Bank Phrom/Unsplash

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