Staring down an advertiser

About 20 years ago, we published a story about the county animal shelter, and the people who ran the shelter weren’t happy with it. They requested a meeting with the publisher, Van King, and Van called me down to join him.

I was a new editor, the newspaper was thick with ads, and business was healthy.

The shelter leader came with her husband, who was a respected auto dealer in town. She made her case and wanted a different story published to correct the perceptions we had left in readers’ minds. We told them that they had told us nothing that convinced us that there was anything inaccurate or unfair about our story.

The car dealer had heard enough.

He looked at Van and said, “You know I do a lot of advertising in your paper.”

And before he could say anything else, Van responded, “Yes, and it sells a lot of cars for you, doesn’t it?”

The dealer paused, then said, “Yes. Yes it does.”

Van went on to tell him that we would write about the shelter accurately and fairly. But, Van said, his money bought space for their car ads, but that it didn’t buy news coverage.

That ended the conversation, and I realized two things: the dealer was forthright, and I had a good publisher in my corner.