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Thursday, June 30, 2011 09:08 am

Hark! A behemoth is here.

The first thing I did this morning upon actually opening my eyes was read today’s State Journal-Register. As I turned to page 11 – the front page of the "City & State" section – I can’t say that I was surprised to see yet another story about Springfield’s newest Big Box. My fellow staff writer and I, upon seeing a press release yesterday about Scheels’ donation to the United Way, might have taken bets whether the item would make the daily paper the next day, but we both agreed it probably would. So, I prepared this blog:

Have you heard? Retail superstore Scheels has arrived in Springfield.

• “United way gets $100K from Scheels.” State Journal-Register. Thursday, June 30, 2011.

• “Crowds rush into Scheels on opening day.” SJ-R. Sunday, June 26, 2011.

• “Scheels is beginning of Legacy Pointe plan.” SJ-R. Saturday, June 25, 2011.

• “Scheels: 2 stories, 300 employees, 800 parking spaces.” SJ-R. Friday, June 24, 2011.

• “The man behind the fish at the new Scheels.” SJ-R. Tuesday, June 21, 2011.

Ten days. Five headlines. Welcome, Scheels.

So, now that you’re aware of Scheels’ presence, let’s celebrate the little guy. Do you know of a Springfield business that requires fewer than 800 parking spaces but has a major impact on the community? Don’t get overlooked – tell us more.

But then, the second thing I did this morning was open the latest edition of Illinois Times. And, bam! Page 2: A “staff writer” byline I didn’t recognize. Who the hell is Jason Delong? I know I can be oblivious to my coworkers at times (sorry!), but a whole new one I've never met?

Oh, wait.  It’s a not-so-clearly marked “paid advertisement” for Treasure Hunters Roadshow.

Damn. What’s that phrase? “The pot calling the kettle black”? “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones”?

I don’t know that there’s anything inherently wrong with writing so many articles about one giant store within such a short time frame. I’m pretty good at tuning advertising out, so I can’t even be suspicious that Scheels’ string of good press is tied to any money it could be spending at the SJ-R. Mostly, I just find it annoying. But, full-disclosure, I’m kind of curmudgeonly about retail – I like small stores, familiar faces and an absence of gimmicks (a Ferris wheel? Really?).

And, I suppose, since it IS labeled as a “paid advertisement,” today’s page two “advertorial” isn’t the end of our journalistic integrity. But, I still don’t like it. I’m a staff writer. My colleague Patrick is a staff writer. I’d love to have another staff writer at IT, but I sure don’t want some ad guy labeled as a staff writer in our newspaper, which prides itself on its independence.

I know that my paycheck is dependent upon our advertising department, and I appreciate the work our ad sales folks do (they are great, and I know that I could never succeed at their jobs). But our readers depend on us to be honest, truthful and transparent. I think we do a good job of that most of the time, but, as far as I’m concerned, an ad mimicking a real newspaper article doesn’t live up to those standards.

Our publisher says the Treasure Hunters Roadshow has no problem dropping the “staff writer” label and enlarging the “paid advertisement” disclaimer in any future ads. So, going forward, it appears to be a moot point.

But, until next week, note that page two is indeed an advertisement, and enjoy the rest of your IT.

(Note that this post has been edited from its original version to more accurately reflect the situation.)

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