Does NY Times Web Site Blur Editorial-Advertising Lines?

“To borrow from the tagline of the new blockbuster film Lord of the Rings, it may be the one Web page that binds them all. But did it united them in darkness?

That’s is how CBS MarketWatch leads a story claiming that The New York Times Web site’s ‘sponsored content’ for that film is the latest example of “how the modern world of Internet journalism is colliding with the age-old struggle of keeping news and advertising apart.”

Earlier this year at the Content Summit in Zurich, we watched New York Times Digital General Manager Scott Meyer explain his company’s ‘sponsored content’ concept: The advertiser gets to create a promotional Web page pick that features the advertiser’s choice of previously published Times articles about whatever is being promoted.

Because the articles were written by the newspaper’s critics and staff and were objective, the Times claims use of those articles by the advertiser doesn’t blur the line between editorial and advertising content.

But we maintain that New York Times Digital has clearly blurred that line because:

  • The advertiser chooses which Times stories will be published on the Web page — it is unlikely that negative stories about will be published.
  • From the consumer’s perspective, the Web page clearly looks like a Times editorial news page, not an advertiser’s page.
  • Letting an advertiser pick which stories get published on a page would clearly violate the Times print edition’s ethical practices. The Web might be a new medium, but we believe that ethics transcent media.
  • If the Times is to maintain itself as the paragon of American (and perhaps all English-language) journalism, it must be held to a paragon’s journalistic ethics standards. That’s why we’ve criticized the frequent ethical lapses by its Web subsidiary. And we assert that the root cause of these lapses was New York Times Chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. installing former advertising executive Martin Nisenholtz — an ad executive without any journalistic experience who is in change of a paragon journalistic Web site.

    But Should Harvard Alumni Even Have AOL Accounts?

    Dozens of applicants to Harvard University didn’t hear ‘You’ve got mail!’ when American Online rejected the university’s e-mails about their acceptance as Harvard students. According to, AOL’s e-mail filtering system mistook Harvard’s mass e-mailing as a spam attack and blocked those messages. (We wonder if AOL also blocks the Harvard Law School Alumni Association’s fund-raising e-mails to its alumni, AOL Time Warner Vice Chairman Ken Novack and Executive Vice President & General Counsel Paul Cappuccio?)

    E-Mail the Major Carrier of Computer Viruses

    According to a story in The South China Morning Post , Computer Associates and Kaspersky Labs repor that that 90% of computer viruses were transmitted via e-mails. According to MessageLabs, an average of one message in every 300 contains a virus, compared to one in every 700 one year ago. It expects that one in every 10 will contain a virus by 2008.

    The Dawning of Converge Devices

    We have long preached that consumers will soon carry a single portable electronic device for all content usages, rather than carry multiple devices (mobile phone, Personal Digital Assistant, MP3 player, laptop PC, digital camera, etc.) that each deal with only one form of content. We’ve also said that many of these converged devices would begin appearing early in 2002.

    The South China Morning Post now reports some of the first of these converged devices to reach the market: The Nokia 5510 (mobile phone + SMS & e-mail device + MP3 player + radio receiver + games player), newest Sony iPaqs (handheld PC + PDA + MP3 player) and Sony-Ericcson phone (mobile phone + digital camera + MP3 player + radio receiver), Handspring Treo (PDA + SMS & e-mail device + mobile phone), and NEC phone (video mobile phone + DoCoMo access to the Internet).

    Frank and Pessimistic Forecast from NAA

    Last month, the UBS Warburg Pincus Media Conference saw a rather frank and bleak slide presentation (9.5-megabytes in size) from the Newspaper Association of America’s Vice President of Market Analysis Jim Conaghan with forecasts for 2002. Online publishers can incidentally take some comfort in Conaghan’s analysis: Web sites modestly increased print circulation and bolstered print readership.

    Should Time Warner Divorce AOL?

    In mid-December, Forrester Research issued a report entitled Guides Redefine Mass Media that states, “Media companies in every sector face a collapse of their distribution control – and distribution control is what maintains media industry profits. Industry troubles have only begun.”

    Mass Media companies rely upon the control of distribution channels, but that consumers’ increasingly open access to content via the Internet is evaporating that control, the report states. Forrester says that as consumers begin using new technologies that allow each consumer to find content specifically matching his individual needs and interest, the concept of Mass Media itself is shattered.

    How are the major media companies defending themselves? According to Forrester, they are blindly relying upon their brand names. These companies simply believe that the consumer will continue to rely upon the media brand names that had controlled the finding of content during the late 20th Century. “But they are wrong,” the report states. “This reasoning assumes that the consumer has no outside help finding content.”

    (By the way, Forrester’s mention of media companies using their brand names as a Maginot Line. That echoeswhat we at Digital Deliverance termed the Muddle Through Strategy of Time Warner New Media.

    During the 1999 Content Summit in New York, Time Warner Director of New Media Dan Okrent was asked about his company’s strategy for Media Media. “Some eight or nine media companies dominated media during the 20th Century. We think some eight or nine will also during the 21st Century, and we plan to be one of those companies. Although we don’t know how the Internet will affect media, we are confident that consumers will always trust the Time Warner brands. And we are a rich company, so we can always buy any hot new companies that develop future media technologies.”

    We wonder how surprised Okrent was a year later when one of those hot new companies instead bought Time Warner. Probably about as surprised as he was that Time Warner’s Pathfinder site never found any path to online success.)

    Continue reading Should Time Warner Divorce AOL?

    Laugh Lab

    If the Internet now is universal, jokes are the universal form of content. The British Association for the Advancement of Science created Laugh Lab, a Web site where jokes are posted and rated. The funniest to more than 100,000 people in over 70 countries who rated 10,000 was submitted by Geoff Anandappa:

    Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes awakes Watson. “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce.” Watson says, “I see millions of stars, and if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.” Replies Holmes, “Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent!”

    According to LaughLab, Germans more than any other nationals rated a higher percentage of jokes as funny or very funny, and men and women favour different types of jokes. Men’s favorites involve aggression, misogyny, or sexual innuendo. Women prefer jokes involving word play.

    The Experts about Individuated Media