The Seattle Times has justified its decision to make an $80,000 independent expenditure on Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna by calling it an "experiment" to prove that political advertising in daily newspapers is effective. In a statement, the Seattle Times Co. called the ad a "proof of concept for the effectiveness of a print newspaper campaign."
That's an absurd claim, for two reasons.
First, by making an unprecedented independent expenditure for a partisan candidate, the Times made itself the story. Currently, Google News lists 225 stories about the ad from around the nation. That's a huge amount of free publicity for an ad that would otherwise only be seen by the Times' dwindling base of print subscribers.
Second, the Times is shooting itself in the foot. By running a campaign ad for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, the paper has effectively guaranteed that no Democratic candidate will want to advertise in its pages in the future. In Democratic Seattle, those are the campaigns the Times should be going for—if its McKenna ad was really an "experiment" to show ads work, and not a cynical attempt to boost support for the candidate its editorial board endorsed.
If the Times really wanted to demonstrate that newspaper ads work for candidates in liberal Seattle, they would have run a free ad for McKenna's Democratic opponent, Jay Inslee.