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GM Focuses on Digital Advertising

But this shift of ad dollars didn't make it into <I>Reuter's</I> coverage of the carmaker.

It should be an easy procedure, right? To take what someone else wrote and transpose it? But in the hands of the business media, even regurgitating someone else's work is occasion to confuse and mislead the savvy investor.

Take this article about

General Motors

(GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report

and advertising from

The Wall Street Journal

and look at how

Reuters

butchered it.

Here is the

Journal

's headline:

"GM Won't Buy Advertising Time For 2009 Oscars"

.

If you give in to the temptation to read only the headline, you might naturally assume that General Motors' business has turned so lame and cutbacks so severe that the company is not advertising (or, in this case, sponsoring) television's showcase events -- which means that it has obliterated its advertising ambitions. End of discussion.

As

The Wall Street Journal

made clear, however -- and this is key for all who want to understand car companies, television networks, newspapers or advertisers -- General Motors is not simply cutting its entire advertising budget to ribbons.

Far from it.

Pointed out the

Journal

, in a central development to many industries:

P/>"While GM has been under pressure to save money, the company has also been aggressively shifting ad dollars to digital marketing, such as search-related ads, and away from traditional media, according to people close to the company. They add that GM is looking to put a larger share of its ad dollars into media that offer a measurable return on its investment."

There you have the issue in all its complexity. General Motors has, like the rest of the auto industry and as the

Journal

made clear, "been in cost-cutting mode because of soaring gas prices." But all companies -- especially those in dire straights -- need to justify their ad dollars, and the general pits of television and newspapers, which can't be measured with any degree of accuracy beyond a finger to the wind, are not doing it for them.

There is a switch under way. End of discussion.

No sooner had

The Wall Street Journal

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posted this article, though, than

Reuters

came along on the wires to repeat it.

Reuters

credited the

Journal

, sure -- though a savvy investor is always wary of these regurgitation stories.

On the odd occasion, a regurgitation story will build on the original story with some new fact or insight. But especially over the weekend -- and especially over August weekends -- such articles are more often filler.

Reuters

is just looking to fill a quota of articles, and if you are not adding to the article, there is only one thing left to do:

Leave stuff off.

Which is just what

Reuters

did here.

It did not make a fatal mistake in its headline:

"GM won't buy advertising time for 2009 Oscars: report"

.

The lead, too, made no terrible error:

"U.S. automaker General Motors Corp. has pulled out of its longtime sponsorship of the Academy Awards, one of the biggest annual events on broadcast television, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday."

But the rest of the article kills by omission. While there is a quick reference to "a sharp downturn in automotive advertising on television,"

Reuters

does not even touch upon how, as the

Journal

made clear in a point central to the article and issue, General Motors has been "aggressively shifting ad dollars to digital marketing."

Again, this should help explain to you why man traditional media outlets are struggling. Advertisers can't measure how their ad dollars are doing, so they are shifting them -- especially companies such as General Motors, which now must hold every thin dime dear.

The larger point, though, is that little good comes from an article summarizing another. And it's done a lot on slow August weekends. When you see it, look for any new material or insight added, but in most cases, play it safe. Let your fingers do the clicking, and turn your attention back to the original.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

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