Star Tribune apologizes for misleading ad framed as a review

Star Tribune readers could hardly be blamed for wondering how the newspaper was able to publish a review of the Guthrie Theater’s new show “Time Stands Still” before the show opened.

It turns out, the “article” that appeared in the newspaper on Friday was actually a “spadea” – a one-and-a-half-page ad wrapped around a section of the paper. Any indication of it being an advertisement was missing. And it included a ringing endorsement of the play by the newspaper’s editor, Nancy Barnes.

MinnPost’s David Brauer reports that Star Tribune CEO Michael Klingensmith has apologized to readers for any confusion the ad might have caused. And Star Tribune theater critic Graydon Royce, whose review of the Guthrie performance wasn’t in the paper until Monday, says readers should definitely care about this.

“It was laid out in a way that mimicked newspaper design; the newsroom gets calls about people who ask us about the Amish fireplace. I only know this second-hand, but I heard we got a call from someone saying they enjoyed the ‘review’ in the paper, but it didn’t have the usual dates and times and ticket prices. It really, really creates an ambiguity that even the most sophisticated reader would have difficulty telling it” from regular coverage … as a journalist, I’m concerned about confusing readers.”

The bigger question may be why Barnes lent her name to any ad section, much less one that, in effect, scooped her reviewer by three days. [Again, see update above.] The spadea ran Friday, the same day the play premiered; because the theater does not let reviewers review previews, Royce’s judgment waited until Monday.

“I really did” like the play, says Royce, adding that no higher-up interfered with his coverage. “But all day long on Friday, I was perturbed, wondering what kind of a box did this put me in, how this screws me up. All day Friday, I’m in this hothouse of journalism ethics. But by the end of the first act, I said to myself, ‘Big deal, I’m here, seeing the show, I know how to answer the question of whether I like it or not.'”

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the “spadea” was written by Guthrie communications manager Quinton Skinner. Until recently Skinner was a theater reviewer, and has written for, among other publications, the Star Tribune.

You can read the rest of Brauer’s article here.