St. Louis Post-Dispatch Gets Political With Its Online Advertising

On the eve of Election Day two weeks ago, some online readers of the Post-Dispatch opened their inboxes to find an intriguing note from the local daily: an e-mail touting Proposition A, the controversial gambling ballot initiative that aimed to do away with the $500 loss limits enforced at the state’s casinos.

Only two weeks prior, the Post’s editorial board had given the ballot initiative a big thumbs-down.

What gives?

“I could see how this could be a little confusing,” observes Rick Edmonds, the media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. “It’s so new, it’s kind of a gray area."

The e-mail came from "St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com."

The subject line read: "PAID ADVERTISEMENT."

At the end of the e-mail came the full disclaimer: "THIS IS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT BROUGHT TO YOU AS A SERVICE OF THE ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH. THE CONTENT OF THIS ADVERTISEMENT MAY OR MAY NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH OR ITS EMPLOYEES."

Edmonds says it's the first time he's seen a daily endorsing an election issue through e-mail. "Newspapers would definitely like to get more of this kind of advertising," he adds.

Tracy Rouch, a spokeswoman for the Post, says the cyber-blast was the paper's first political e-mail ad. She declines to reveal how many people received the e-mail, or say how the list was targeted. Rouch also declines to reveal the ad fee.

Prop A spokesman Scott Charton tells the RFT the ad cost "just a few thousand dollars." (A media firm in California purchased the ad as part of a large media buy.)

"Usually a relatively small percentage of people actually open such e-mails, perhaps in the 5 percent to 15 percent range," Charton adds, "but it’s handy and helped us spread the positive message about Prop A to more potential voters."

Rouch, the Post’s spokeswoman, says that as of last week, the daily had received only two complaints about the ad.

The ballot measure ended up passing with 56 percent of the vote.

It was a campaign heavily funded by the casino industry; as of eight days before the election, organizers had collected more than $14 million in donations. (Ameristar Casino donated another $70,000 seven days before the election.)

Jack Brady, director of marketing and advertising for the Newspaper Association of America, says he expects an increasing number of papers to try to capitalize on big political war chests in the coming years, especially on the web.

"At one point, the newspaper industry basically just abandoned this sector. We weren't pursuing this business. Now we are. And it has definitely been making a difference for candidates."

The Wall Street Journal did some good reporting on the subject last year.

Below I've reprinted the full text of the Post-Dispatch’s November 3 e-mail.

From: "St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com"
To:
Date: 03 Nov 2008

Subject: PAID ADVERTISEMENT -- Three Key Facts about Proposition A

Here are three key facts to consider about Proposition A, on the

November 4th state ballot.



FACT: Prop A increases the tax casinos pay to help fund education. The
Missouri State Auditor determined that voting YES on A will provide
$105 to $130 million annually for elementary and secondary education -- with no tax increase on Missouri residents.


- SOURCE: Missouri State Auditor's Official Fiscal Statement for Proposition A



FACT: Prop A ensures these school funds can only be used to increase
school funding. And, under Prop A "the state auditor shall perform an
annual audit of the gaming proceeds for education fund and...make
copies of each audit available to the public."


- SOURCE: From the actual text of Proposition A, Sec. 313.822. (3)



FACT: Prop A protects the 3,636 St. Louis area jobs and $38.7 million
in local taxes and fees that casinos provide.


- SOURCE: Statistics from Missouri Gaming Commission, Annual Report 2008



Proposition A is endorsed by a statewide coalition of teachers,
parents, taxpayer advocates and local business, labor and community
groups. On Tuesday, Nov. 4th, please join us in voting YES on A, for
our schools and for our economy.



For more information, visit our website at YesOnPropA.com

See our newspaper ad

See our TV ads



Message paid for by the YES on A Coalition, Mark Reading, Treasurer.

THIS IS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT BROUGHT TO YOU AS A SERVICE OF THE ST.
LOUIS POST DISPATCH.
THE CONTENT OF THIS ADVERTISEMENT MAY OR MAY NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS
OF THE ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH OR ITS EMPLOYEES.


________________________________

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 900 N. Tucker Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63101
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- Kristen Hinman



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