Too frequently of late, corporate stockholders' meetings are being devoted to marginally relevant confrontation or, as voices and tempers rise, bad theater.
It happens as minority stockholders badger company officers about issues that have little to do with financial performance, and it happened again this week as The Post's corporate leaders reported to stockholders.
Among the irrelevancies was a prolonged dispute over language in news and advertising. The Post had refused to run an advertisement employing in its headline four dots representing one of the commonly used verbs that the paper makes a deliberate effort to keep out of its news columns, allowing it and other offending words to be published only if a top editor judges them to be essential to the story.
The badgerers attempted to establish a vocabulary test that would cover both news and advertising. They apparently wanted a policy that would fix a commonality between the two. If a word is acceptable to news, why not in advertising?
The fact is there is no such link. To say it another way, news and advertising are separate businesses housed in the same building. Both reject materials.
News stories are spiked every day for lack of space or news value. The practice is known to every news room that ever existed, and disagreements between news desks and advocates of events and supporters of viewpoints are part of the daily dialogue -- not to say tension -- in a news operation.
Advertising departments have their own policies. Rate cards and other materials that The Post publishes for the assistance of advertisers carry a paragraph that announces the paper's right to reject materials. No massage parlor advertisemets are published, nor are ads for handguns.
Opinion advertising is, of coure, entirely different from ads offering goods and services. Publisher Don Graham spent a good bit of time at this week's meeting explaining the paper's policy on this type of purchasable space. The Post will turn down opinion ads on any one of three bases: Is it false or misleading? Is it lieblous? Is it objectionable? None of the three rules out criticism, and the paper has carried ads that have criticized, among other things and people, the paper itself and some of its employees.
This week's disputed ad fell into the "objectionable" category because of the dotted verb, and thus was turned down. The same thing happens for other reasons now and then to movie ads. Despite some of the pretty scruffy stuff that appears, The Post not infrequently turns down both graphics and text of some of the more racy motion picture promotions.
So both news and advertising staffs reject material for reasons of both policy and judgment. The central point is that these two functions of a newspaper differ so widely that they are mirror images of each other. The language of an advertisement is always that of the advertiser. The language of a news story represents an effort by the news staff to report, describe, inform. Ads advocate; news stories should stay out of the business.
To argue that these two functions have a common language is nonsense, better left to the ruminations of the Flat Earth Society than to use up time at a serious examination of corporate performance.