Newspaper's 9/11 promotional advertisement draws criticism

September 12, 2013 10:09:29 AM

William Browning - [email protected]








And "Who thought this was a good marketing promotion?" 


Those were some of the online responses people had to a Starkville Daily News advertisement in Wednesday's edition of that daily newspaper. The ad was a subscription promotion presumably tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It read: "Today only...sign up for a new subscription or renew your subscription for $9.11 per month." 


Not long after the Daily News and full-page ad -- which appeared on the back of the sports section on page C-8 -- hit the streets, reactions began heating up social media sites on the Internet. 


Dozens of people posted photographs of the ad on Twitter. Some of the comments people posted alongside the ad were, "Way to be awful," "Poor decision Starkville Daily News" and "Incredibly poor form." 


J.C. Dickinson, a Tupelo resident, came across a picture of the ad posted online. His response via Twitter: "Starkville Daily News...Smh (shaking my head)." 


Contacted Wednesday afternoon, Dickinson explained he wasn't personally offended by the ad but said, "people that lost loved ones in the tragedy easily could be." 


"I just think it's something that shouldn't happen," he said. "Mainly because we already know what today means to America. Why try to make money off of it?"  


Don Norman, publisher of the Starkville Daily News, did not respond to phone calls or email messages seeking comment Wednesday. 


The ad also drew criticism on Facebook and a well-known journalism blog. 


The responses were similar to ones a Wisconsin golf course received after running an ad in the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday, two days before Sept. 11, that read: "To Commemorate this we are offering 9 holes with cart for only $9.11 per person, or 18 holes with cart for only $19.11! 9/11/13 Only!" 


In the ensuing backlash, Tumbledown Trails Golf Course took to its Facebook page. 


"We would first like to apologize to everyone that we have upset or feels we have disrespected in anyway," the course posted. "By no means did we mean to do this." 


Frances McDavid, a journalism instructor at Mississippi State University for more than two decades, said when newspapers, or any businesses, "are trying to acknowledge holidays, they should be sensitive to how their audience will respond to advertising." 


"With this type of anniversary, despite it having happened 12 years ago, people still react very strongly," she said. 


On Sept. 11, 2001, four airliners hijacked in a coordinated effort by Al Qaeda led to almost 3,000 people being killed on American soil.  


McDavid said the 9/11 attack "affected everybody in the country" personally and people are still sensitive. She likened it to the strong emotions people felt, and still feel, for the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. 


But as decades pass, she said, people become less sensitive. 


McDavid noted that people routinely wish each other a "Happy Memorial Day" and that May holiday, she said, is a day to remember men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. 


Memorial Day originated not long after the end of the Civil War. In the ensuing years, businesses across the country commonly offer Memorial Day sales.

William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.