Michael Williams: Readers' editor

No conspiracy – this ad was a coincidence
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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch "is putting his chequebook away". The News Corp boss's announcement to a summit of top media moguls in Sun Valley last week was the surest confirmation yet of the torrid time the media are now facing. Advertising revenues are tumbling, shares are in free fall and some of the most venerable names in the business are in trouble. The owners of the 'Daily Mirror' have just revealed dire figures, with a quarter of its stock market valuation wiped out in one day. The once fearless 'Washington Post' announced last week that it is being forced to fire some of its most famous reporters.

Does this mean the press is having to resort to desperate measures? Reader Joel Fischer thinks it might be. "I've bought 'The Independent on Sunday' from the beginning, precisely because it is just that – independent," he writes from Bristol. "So I was shocked to see your Wimbledon report on page three last week next to an ad featuring tennis players and mineral water. The image in the ad is an echo of the one on the page. I know times are hard, but are you now having to suck up to your advertisers?"

It's easy to read conspiracy into almost anything the media do, Mr Fischer. Some academics claim to detect a sinister growth in what is called "advertorials" as a way of reviving sagging profits. But not here. For quality newspapers such the 'Independent' titles, the demarcation lines between advertising and editorial are very strictly drawn. No matter how hard times are, the integrity of editorials will never be compromised.

Sure, there are some ads that are deliberately designed to look like editorials. But who would be fooled into thinking those quaint endorsements for improving your memory, word power or virility are editorial copy? And the "special supplements" that appear from time to time (you know the kind of thing, extolling the concrete industry in Korea or green-lipped mussel farming in New Zealand) are always clearly labelled for what they are.

The prime rule is non-interference. "They" don't try to influence "us" and we don't meddle with them. Very occasionally an editor will "pull" an ad that's offensive in some way. Even more rarely, advertisers withdraw their trade if they think a product is being criticised in the editorial columns.

Why shouldn't the people who promote Highland Spring as a drink on Centre Court place their ad on page 3, in the hope that a report of Wimbledon finals day might also appear on the same page? And so what if it doesn't? In a "compact" this is a prime ad slot in the paper and one of the most desirable. It is natural that both advertisers and editors should shout as loudly as they can to catch the reader's attention. And it is perfectly healthy, too, that we should both compete aggressively across the line on the page that divides us.

A bit like a game of tennis, in fact.

Message Board: Can anything halt the rise in knife crime?

As hospitals report a huge increase in admissions of patients with blade injuries, readers discusse the roots of knife culture:


The problem is particularly severe among young people, and so National Service would do something to sort this out. Today's teenagers need to learn a bit more respect for human existence.


I for one shall patriotically continue to believe the official police line on crime; namely, that it continues to fall and logically will sooner or later vanish completely from all statistics!


To put "contact with knife" figures along with those for "assault by sharp object" grossly overestimates the incidence of knife-related assault: it includes hospital admission after unintentional injury.


If you deliberately take a life you should surrender your own. There should be a mandatory penalty of five years for possession, and a 10-year minimum sentence for using the knife. No remission.


With zero tolerance, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani reduced crime substantially in a city known for its abhorrent violence. Let's get tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.


Mandatory sentences for people carrying knives would be difficult to put into practice. What about people who carry work tools? Besides, broken glass and bricks can kill just as easily.


The young men who attack those who displease cannot envisage the consequences of what they are about to do. Drama can open up these undeveloped young minds, and save lives in years to come.

J Hayward

We live in a callous society. Knife crime is in keeping with a general disregard for others. Constant exposure to violence in films and music can't help. Ultimately, the quality of parenting must improve.

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