Pro-life insert leads to explanation of ad policy

The Daily included an advertising insert for the Human Life Alliance, an anti-abortion group, in its Nov. 29 edition. This angered some readers and pleased others.
For anyone who threw out or ignored the insert, it included stories written by women and physicians about abortion, articles that detailed various abortion procedures, and lists of hotlines for pregnant women. A label printed at the top of each page on the right hand corner read “Advertising Supplement.”
Certain readers questioned the political agenda of the Daily following the insert’s distribution. On Dec. 1, Catherine Vito asked, “Was the motivation to ‘inform’ your readers about the horrible dangers of abortion?” Others disputed the veracity of claims made by the Human Life Alliance. Linda Lindeke felt the articles were “inflammatory” and based on “dubious” science at best, citing one statistic that connected higher breast cancer rates with abortion. Other readers took offense to explicit headlines such as one titled, “Baby parts for sale.”
Not all of our audience, however, felt the insert mislead the public. Gretchen Porisch pointed out on Dec. 6, “The insert on abortion states gruesome details of abortion procedures. Regardless of how horrible, they are the facts.” Joanne Danner similarly maintained the next day that “the pro-choice people are outraged because they are being shown the awful truth about a violent act which they support.” These individuals applauded the Daily for printing this advertisement, regardless of its controversial content.
So did the Daily do its readers a disservice by including the Human Life Alliance’s advertising insert in our paper? Is a political conspiracy at work here? Or should the Daily accept any type of advertisement, no matter what negative effects occur, or who might be offended by the ad’s content?
Knowing I couldn’t tackle these questions on my own, I spoke with Shannon Seppala, director of marketing and sales at the Daily. Seppala guided me through our advertising acceptance policy. At its core, the policy dictates that our ad copy must meet a certain degree of accuracy and decency before being printed. We can ask that advertisements be revised, if a certain word or image could have a negative impact on the public. Like any other section of the newspaper, advertisements can be edited. The Daily also reserves the right to refuse publishing certain ads if they are not somehow accurate and informative.
However, our decision to accept or not accept advertisements is not based on political biases in our news or business departments. Daily staff members only reject ads if they are completely ludicrous or include highly offensive or questionable imagery of some kind. For instance, as assistant sales manager Danielle Hanson explains, the Daily once rejected an ad that encouraged the public to question the Holocaust. The ad included graphic imagery and other visuals that would offend just about any audience, regardless of its political orientation. For this reason, the ad was not acceptable by the Daily’s standards.
In the case of the ad insert for the Human Life Alliance, according to Seppala, Hanson and Editor-in-Chief Julia Grant, the Daily did follow our advertising acceptance policy. Managers in both our business and editorial departments were well aware of the contents of the insert before its distribution. None of the ad’s claims were thought to be so incredibly outrageous that the Daily could justify rejecting the insert altogether. Also, as Seppala points out, the ad does have support from physicians and other members of the community, some of who were verified as spokespeople by Daily staff. The images shown within the insert were thought to be reasonable as well.
Obviously, the insert has a political agenda, and those students promoting abortion rights are bound to be thrown off by certain headlines and medical claims contained in the ad. Perhaps in the future, the Daily could demand closer editing of certain headlines and articles likely to produce offense in the majority of our audience, such as the “Baby parts for sale” piece, which is fairly graphic.
However, Daily staff point out that the advertisement could easily be avoided, since it was printed as a separate insert. Offended readers could easily throw away the advertisement and still peruse the remainder of the newspaper.
Additionally, readers should know from the label “Advertising Supplement” appearing on each page that this insert is not a medical journal providing undisputed health advice. It contains the ideas and opinions of Human Life Alliance and their pro-life sponsors, but no one else. The insert certainly does not represent the Daily’s stance on abortion. In fact, the Daily gladly accepts advertising from abortion rights groups as well. We would even take ads from the Atheist Swimmer’s Alliance for Lefties or any other group that wanted to use the Daily as an advertising forum. All we ask is that the organization meet our policy demands as described above.
Undeniably, the Daily’s advertising policy requires our staff to make subjective calls about what might or might not produce a high level of offense within our audience. Beyond this, the Daily must ask itself whether the information is “accurate” enough to be printed. These are tough calls to make. When we do accept a controversial ad, like this one from the Human Life Alliance, we run the risk of appearing biased.
But in this case, the Daily did not insult its audience by accepting this advertisement. It’s a bigger insult to assume our readers do not have the intelligence to discern advertising from news content or that they should not be made aware of pro-life abortion issues, than to print the ad itself.

Jen Hass is the reader’s representative for the Daily, and her column appears alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments to [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]