Wall Street Journal Breaks With Tradition. It's Just Unclear Which One.

The Wall Street Journal will put an ad on its front page, beginning the third quarter of this year. (In other words: Soon.)

Size, in this case, matters, but Gordon Crovitz, the Journal’s publisher, told the Times it’s not yet set how big the ad will be. It will be square. It will appear on the lower right corner.

I don’t like this idea, but not for anything church-and-state-ish. The Journal’s front page is one of the few places that makes large swaths of print look pretty. I hate to see elegant design get messed up.

Katharine Seeley and Julie Bosman of the Times—which itself runs ads on certain section fronts—got an obligatory tut-tutting quote:

“As a traditionalist, I’m not thrilled by the idea,” said Bob Steele, who specializes in ethics and values at the Poynter Institute, which studies journalism. Front pages, he said, should be reserved for what the collective community considers to be news.

It’s worth remembering whenever journos pull out the wayback machine and hint of longstanding noble traditions that they’re, um, wrong. Insert the usual stuff—yellow journalism and Citizen Hearst; the bare-knuckled tabloid approach that defined American newspapers for decades before a Times-ian ideal of objectivity took root in the mid-20th century. But let me tell you a story.

A friend of mine is abroad, circa 1999, and visits one of London’s major dailies with a bunch of other college students. In one room, they have front pages from throughout the years plastered on the walls, illustrating various changes in how they presented the news.

The Brit giving the tour points to one and identifies it as coming from somewhere in the 19th century—a major advancement, this one, he says. It was when we started running news on Page One.

My friend, somewhat mystified, asks, well, what was on Page One if not the news?

The Brit pauses, and turns to him. Oh, these dense Yanks …

Advertising, he says.