BANANAS: LA Times Readers Not Amused By The Paper’s In-Depth Coverage Of King Kong

Remember the King Kong-inspired ad section recently featured in the Los Angeles Times? We wrote about it last week and mentioned what a cute lil’ stunt it all was. Well, as is usually the case, it turns out that many don’t share our opinion on what constitutes as cute and harmless. Some LA Times readers, in fact, are going positively apeshit over the ads.

Earlier, LA Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein said that the paper’s readers “understand the ad-supported economic model of our business.” The paper had already begun to draw criticism for the ad section, which featured stories about KING KONG ATTACKING UNIVERSAL STUDIOS.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was so upset over stories of a large primate attacking a theme park (the ads were meant to promote the revamped King Kong ride at Universal Studios) that they sent a strongly-worded letter to Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell:

The cost of this distasteful practice to the people of Los Angeles County is far greater than any short-term gains by the Tribune Company. Today’s mock section makes a mockery of the paper’s mission.

The Wrap features some feedback from LA Times readers:

“I was frightened as I started to read about Universal Studios. When I realized it was a hoax, I was furious. How could you be so irresponsible?” said Joan Richmond of Claremont.

“Your advertisement wrap on the Thursday LATExtra section was irresponsible. Trying to make an ad, especially one that discusses devastation, look like real news is horrible,” wrote Sam Giamendi of Los Angeles.

“The clever advertising hoax played with the trust your readers have developed over the years. Please don’t toy with that trust again. What reader wants to be made to feel like a nincompoop because he or she believed what was on the front page of the L.A. Times?” asked Janet Weaver of Huntington Beach.

“Next time put the red ‘Advertisement’ notice at the top of the page in letters that can’t be missed, and do it on all the inside pages as well. What a lousy joke,” said Stan Greenfield of Woodland Hills.

Again, the ads, which were made to look like the paper’s LAEXtra section, featured “ADVERTISEMENT” in large red letters under a headline about UNIVERSAL STUDIOS BEING DAMAGED BECAUSE OF KING. KONG.

Which brings us back to another story about disclosure and trust…

This controversy reminds us of Lance Armstrong’s complaint that Outside magazine’s decision to Photoshop a design onto his plain t-shirt for their cover image was “bullshit” — despite the fact that the magazine clearly stated, on the cover, that the t-shirt had been altered and was not actually Armstrong’s.

The question, then, is whether any sort of alteration or melding of editorial and advertising, even if clearly disclosed or ABOUT KING KONG, is a step towards diminishing the relationship between a news source and its readership. Can you trust a source that even needs to disclose a stunt of these sorts? Does doing so set a bad precedent where the quality of content is concerned?

What say you, readers?