Times Finally Runs Display Advertising on Front Page

It once might have raised hackles for the Times to carry a display ad on the front page. Now the only scandal is that the paper waited so long.

Today the paper carries a front-page ad for CBS. Well, sure. It's hard to be shocked by that after the paper's first mass layoffs, a junk rating for its debt, a planned mortgage of its headquarters building and a deep company dividend slash.

Besides, the Times already had display ads on section fronts (since 2006) and the occasional classified on the front. The Wall Street Journal (since 2006), USA Today (since 1999), Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune all have front-page ads. The Washington Post is now the most prominent paper to have held out against them.

In 1851, when the Times started publication, it was not uncommon for advertising to crowd news out entirely from the front page. Even by the 1890s, the first two or three pages of the New York Herald contained no news at all. (It's not entirely clear from the Times' cautiously-phrased story today if it ever carried front-page ads during this era.)

The only thing outrageous about the Times' decision is its tardiness. Ten years ago, the paper could have fetched a truly outlandish premium for the honor of front-page placement. Today the novelty has been eroded by competitors like the Journal, and the economy is in the tank. As with his mortgage, dividend cut and planned sale of other assets, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. slept far too many nights on this decision.