In Varying Degrees, Web Sites to Go Dark for Sept. 11

Major online news and portal sites will suspend much of their prime advertising during today’s commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

AOL Time Warner will affect probably the most severe change, removing all advertising from its America Online service through early Thursday. The move also affects AOL’s Web sites as well, AOL Interactive Marketing President Robert Sherman said in an email to advertisers.

In place of the ads, public service announcements will run linking to “special programming dedicated to the national response and humanitarianism resulting from the events or to charitable Web sites,” he wrote.

Other sites will shelve almost all of their advertising inventory on sections besides news or the front page. One of those, MSNBC.com, will continue to honor sponsorship commitments — involving text links in areas such as its health site — but will replace its banner inventory with public service announcements.

“We aren’t running any advertising on the site tomorrow,” said MSNBC spokesman Peter Dorogoff. “We are keeping in place our sponsored sections, but for banner advertising, those will be PSAs that point to help and resources.”

Some major portals will limit ad restrictions chiefly to their front pages. Terra Lycos’s Lycos.com will pull all advertising on its home page. The three main ad units on the page will be replaced with Sept. 11-related ads.

Instead of ads on the front page, Lycos plans to run a full-page, takeover “ad” for a special area that it created to remember Sept. 11 victims. The site, www.lycos.com/remembrance, features links to news sites, charities, support groups and first-hand accounts of the attacks.

Similarly, Yahoo will roll out a subdued version of its front page — which will, for the day, appear without any of its colored icons and in a more somber color scheme. Instead of ads, the company will feature links to its own “living memorial,” where Web surfers can post messages relating to the tragedy.

The Washington Post Co.’s washingtonpost.com also will suspend front-page advertising, while running a special commemorative ad designed in-house. The ad clicks through to list victims of Sept. 11.

New York Times Digital said it would forego any advertising on coverage of the Sept. 11 anniversary, except for ads paid for by Project Liberty. In addition, the site will be running house ads for four books related to the tragedy, written by New York Times reporters. Ads for the books also will appear in email newsletter inventory, replacing client ads.

A spokesperson for NYTimes.com also said the site would not run “intrusive” advertising, such as pop-up ads and out-of-banner formats, in connection with coverage related to the memorial — a ban that will last through Friday.

Naturally, several sites said they were accommodating advertisers who did not want any sort of presence connected to Sept. 11.

“We do work with advertisers in placing ads in suitable locations throughout the site,” Dorogoff said. “We want to be sensitive throughout the day, and to be careful about our readership, and as well as be responsive to our advertisers’ requests.”

Added Neil Budde, publisher of Dow Jones’ Wall Street Journal Online, “If advertisers asked not to run, they will be removed from the site. Other advertisers will continue to appear. You also may see some house ads in some locations.” Still, a number of advertisements will run, he said.

Others, while similarly complying, take a different stance.

“We’re honoring any of our advertisers requests to go dark on 9/11 — and a good majority of them asked us to,” said Forbes.com CEO and President Jim Spanfeller. “In general, our thought process is that we should be approaching this day as ‘business-as-usual’ and that the despicable acts of last year have not altered our lives or our business practices.”

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