Marijuana ads: Savior for the newspaper business?

Where medical marijuana is legal, newspapers are seeing a big jump in ad revenue, thanks to pot-related businesses. Is this good or bad for journalism?

Releaf is a Colorado Springs guide to medical marijuana.
(Image credit: Colorado Springs Independent)

Newspapers have fallen on hard times, but in some states they are receiving a surprise "revenue blessing" — ad sales connected to medical marijuana. "This is certainly one of the fastest growing industries we've ever seen come in," says Scott Tobias, president of alternative weekly publisher Village Voice Media, as quoted in The New York Times. In Colorado, where voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, the company's Denver paper now gets 40 percent of its classified ad money from pot-related businesses. Its publications in California have seen significant jumps, too. Could marijuana help "save" local papers, or is becoming dependent on such a controversial industry bad for journalism?

Yes, this is good for papers — and journalists: This ad windfall is "golden," says Alex Alvarez at Mediabistro.com. Not only does it help local papers in the 14 states that permit marijuana use for certain health reasons but it "helps create new jobs within the industry as well." And as an "added bonus" to those who enjoy clever wordplay, "marijuana makes for great puns."

"Marijuana will save local newspapers (maybe)"

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No, these ads could slant news coverage: I hate to kill everyone's buzz, says Clay Waters at NewsBusters, but in the very least, we need to "question whether such massive advertising for a controversial product could influence a newspaper's journalism." It could be hard for editors and reporters to cover opposition to medical marijuana fairly when they know their paper's "bottom line" — and their jobs — could hang in the balance.

"As newspapers inhale cash from medical marijuana ads, NY Times skips usual ethics questions"

Beware — the ads may turn off readers: "Dollars are always appealing," says Sacramento magazine publisher Mike O'Brien, as quoted at KCRA.com. But some publications — like ours — won't run these ads. Papers exist to serve their audience, and any publication that tries to grab a share of marijuana's advertising bounty will damage its credibility with conservative readers.

"15 percent of News & Review's ads for medical pot"

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