The Big $ Payout to Conservative Talk Hosts [Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck]: Implications for Civil Discourse/Public Interest

As noted by Brian Lowry in Variety, “[W]e now live in the age of the endless election.” His column notes the mind-boggling deals that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck have recently negotiated. Limbaugh has a $400 million eight year radio deal; Hannity’s new radio contract provides a $100 million pay-out (and that doesn’t include his “multimillion-dollar deal with Fox News”); O’Reilly is staying on Fox for $10 million a year; Glenn Beck goes to Fox in 2009–which will reward him additional dough beyond his five-year $50 million radio deal.

This is a very significant investment in people and a communications infrastructure designed to attack and undermine the forces working for change in the U.S. (I’m being very polite!). They will engage in an effort to whip up anger, division, and personal rancor. There clearly needs to be a set of strategies designed to address the consequences of this conservative and right-wing attack machine. Beyond trying to resurrect/revise serious journalism, progressives will need to build out a sustainable digital media content system (social networks, mobile, online video services) that can help the country move forward.

source: “Some Campaigns Won’t Die.” Brian Lowry. Variety. November 3-9, 2008.

Fewer Reporters Covering Health Care etc.: Why Fixing Journalism Should Be A Issue for New Congress and Administration

We have longed called for congressional hearings and new policies to address the journalistic melt-down and crisis roiling the country’s print newsrooms. Reporters working for major media companies are confronting stressful conditions as their corporate owners, and a tumultuous economy, create cutbacks and further reduce resources. How can we expect the country to better govern itself if it doesn’t have a press corps. able to ask the tough questions, force greater accountability etc. Here’s a very telling quote from a PR Week roundtable [Nov 3. 2008 issue] date: “… papers just don’t have healthcare reporters anymore. Some do, but not all. Right now with the election in Washington, I had a client who’s a good topic for the Style section of the Post, but all those reporters are being taken off to cover the election or the financial crisis.” And another PR exec added that: “There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t get an e-mail about a beat reporter who’s been downsized or taking a buyout. For us, this is a reporter that’s been on the job a long time and has a lot of institutional knowledge. They’re gone and most of the time the paper won’t fill that position. Or if they do, they’ll use the wire services, and there’s no local angle, and one of the things about our industry is that it’s almost entirely local. We [now] spend a lot of time trying to educate those rookie reporters who now cover not only real estate, but healthcare, features, other things. So their attention on real estate is now one-fifteenth.”

While the comment was about placing a story for a health or real estate company, I think it illustrates the impact of the declining state of news organizations (if Obama were really a socialist, I would ask him to nationalize the Singleton and Tribune papers! That’s a joke!]. It’s time for the Newspaper Guild and media reform groups to press for hearings and answers. Helping news organizations better manage the transition to the digital era should be one topic. So too should be some of the proposals made by journalism scholars, such as in “Taking Stock.

The New York Times Offers Behavioral Targeting to its Advertisers [file under “failure to really disclose” department]

Excerpt from the New York Times “Audience Targeting” page for advertisers:

“Target your Ideal Audience

As the #1 reaching newspaper site on the Web, has an extensive database of reader-supplied information. Through reader surveys and registration data analysis, we can offer you access to your ideal audience.

Main Types of Targeting on

  • Contextual
  • Behavioral
  • Registration Based/Demographic
  • IP-Based Company Information
  • Geographic…
  • Behavioral Targeting

    This offers you the ability to reach niche audiences based on readers’ demonstrated interest wherever they are on By utilizing this premium-targeting tool, you can exponentially increase the number of opportunities to reach your niche audience. Experience more efficient use of marketing budgets, expanded ad placement opportunities and increased media impact and effectiveness.

    How it works: collects anonymous data on user behavior on the site. We can track broad behaviors – like visits to particular sections – and narrow ones – like reading about a particular topic or demonstrated interest in luxury real estate. With this data, interest segments are built…

    IP-Based Company Information

    Through information gleaned from visit IPs we can target against Industry and Fortune 500 or FTSE ranking. This allows for very narrow targeting of any visitor to the site, whether that user is registered with us or not.”

The Financial Meltdown & Media Deregulation Connection

Much of journalism has a `deer-caught-in-the-headlights’ quality as it reports on the current fiscal crisis. Why was this issue off the radar screen for so many reporters and producers? Part of it is that the very system that underlies professional reporting is connected (and funded) by the very forces that have helped wreck the economy. But over the last ten years, journalism in the U.S. has undergone a further serious deterioration, with its ranks thinned. Investigative reporting is on the endangered professions list (with investment bankers perhaps now joining that list as well).

Media consolidation has helped play a role here, further contributing to a news culture where reporters and their parent news organizations really don’t spend time examining beneath the surface of events. All the media mergers we have witnessed since the 1996 Telecom Act has decimated newsrooms, slashed news budgets, and has left journalism on life support (at best).

Just as the Congress failed to engage in meaningful oversight of the financial markets–and spurred the crisis along through deregulation– so too have they largely failed to address the impact of what’s called media deregulation (which meant eliminating rules designed to benefit both the public and press with policies that favored their largely giant corporate owners). As we write in Digital Destiny, Republican and Democrats have long been captured by the influence-wielding (and job promising and donation giving) Big Media “well-connected.” We blame the current deep crisis that has undermined the country’s system of reporting and journalism on the failure of policymakers to ensure meaningful diversity of ownership, public service rules, and new proactive policies which would have addressed this critical problem.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s key congressional patron was Sen. John McCain. Powell’s enthusiastic and uncritical embrace of a deregulatory philosophy during his recent tenure at the helm of that oversight agency helped spur media mergers, journalism lay-offs and other editorial cutbacks. Powell is currently a “technology adviser” for the McCain campaign.  For those of you who are interested in learning more about Mr. Powell and Senator McCain, it’s covered in Digital Destiny (New Press, 2007).

We don’t want to suggest our column is intended to be partisan. Many people know we have been equally critical for the failure of William Kennard, Mr. Powell’s predecessor during the Clinton era, to respond to the call by consumer groups to implement open access for broadband (now known as network neutrality). Mr. Kennard is one of Senator Obama’s major donors. We were also critical of Reed Hundt, Mr. Kennard’s predecessor. Both Pres. Clinton and Al Gore hailed the passage of the 1996 Telecom Act. Frankly, we have concerns about the fate of public interest media and telecommunications policies regardless of who wins the election. But it’s important, in our view, to recall history–including the recent events involving former FCC chairman Michael Powell. How both candidates would fix the mess with our communications system–including ensuring meaningful content and ownership diversity for digital media–should be part of the national debate.

We should realize by now that deregulation of the financial markets contributed to a culture of greed that bought down—at taxpayers expense–an economic house of cards. Fixing our system of journalism for the digital era must be on the policy agenda [we need legions of investigative reporters asap].

Faster than the CBS Blinking Eye: CNET now offers behavioral targeting for its advertisers

We know the folks at Viacom and CBS know a great deal about digital marketing. The new overhaul of the CNET site, which CBS acquired last June, includes behavioral targeting in the redesign. CNET now–“[B]ased on what users are searching for, manufacturers will be able to connect with them… within the comparison shopping process. In addition to its traditional focus on tech products, CNET is adding appliance and kitchen gadget reviews, covering such products as built-in ovens, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, small appliances, stoves and ranges, and washers and dryers.”

Of course, we hardly don’t know any media outlet that isn’t using some form of behavioral targeting and other interactive marketing techniques. But what’s generally missing is real disclosure to users and their ability to determine what is collected and by what methods. And while online advertising is the key business model for the future of online publishing, the rush to embrace of behavioral targeting by news organizations raises a number of disturbing questions. It’s an issue we will cover.

source: undergoes major revamp. August 28, 2008

Google/Yahoo deal and its impact on newspapers

One of the issues the Center for Digital Democracy has asked the Department of Justice to investigate is the impact of the proposed deal between Google and Yahoo and its impact on the already endangered newspaper business. Both Yahoo and Google provide online search ads or related services for the majority of the country’s newspapers. Analyzing how the pairing of Yahoo and Google may affect payments to newspaper publishers, and whether there may be the potential loss of competition, is necessary. Given the current financial pressure on newspapers, CDD urged ‘DoJ to examine the deal to address whether it will contribute to a loss in revenues necessary to ensure Americans have access to print-oriented news resources.” (It’s also interesting to note that Yahoo was reported in the trade press in February 2008 as seeing the potential of its newspaper ad platform to even compete with DoubleClick–which at the time was already acquired by Google

The New York Times Tracks its Online Audience: Boolean Boola

We have long believed that the New York Times needs to explain to readers and users the range of digital marketing technologies and strategies it deploys. The Times (and its Times Digital) uses behavioral targeting and is currently working with Revenue Science. Revenue Science proudly proclaims that the “behaviors of more than 120 million individuals are tracked and aggregated from across the Internet.” Claiming it relies on “powerful Boolean logic” to propel its tracking and targeting effort, Revenue Science explains that it places users into discrete targeting segments “… based on multiple criteria that demonstrate interest or intent to buy. For example, to qualify for our automotive audience, users might read multiple articles and take specific actions such as filling out a loan calculator. Revenue Science uses Boolean logic to find and segment multilayered behaviors to reach the right audience…Revenue Science Targeting Marketplace connects people to engaging advertising with the most advanced behavioral and targeting capabilities available, and the marketers that choose Revenue Science benefit from advanced data intelligence to reach the right people, at the right time, every time.”

The Times Co. has been a leader in the online marketing arena for almost two decades now (as we explain in our book). Online is an important revenue segment for the Times Co. (as it must and should be for all newspapers). The Times “web analytics group” is looking for a “senior web analytics manager.” We think what such a person and the group does raises privacy and related issues. Here is an excerpt from the job announcement: “The New York Times web analytics group is responsible for measuring and understanding the largest and most influential online newspaper audience in the world… As a senior web analytics manager, you will be expected to:

• Deeply understand the audience and their behavior
• Support the analytic needs of the company by using WebTrends and other analytical tools to understand trends in web traffic…
Work with the NYT customer insight group to coordinate and focus quantitative and qualitative analysis related to audience behavior…”

Ultimately, web analytics, tracking and targeting techniques will have an impact on journalism-some good, others not-so-good.  When an online publication understands exactly what the most desirable demographic–or even individual–wants in terms of news, it will have an impact on news budgets, we believe. So think more entertainment and less serious journalism down the road. Not at places like the Times, we hope, but certainly at many other publications.  But for newspapers to remain a credible source of information during this crucial transition phase for journalism, they must address the privacy and online marketing “ecosystem” they have embraced.

Newspaper industry tracking user “behavior” without real disclosure, consent

quadrantOne is a consortium of 26 newspaper companies that enable advertisers to, as its release notes, “for the first time, to buy hundreds of well-established and trusted online newspaper and broadcasting sites by placing a single order.” quadrantOne [attention antitrust types!] is jointly owned by Tribune, Gannett, Hearst, and the New York Times.

On Friday, the Newspaper Association of America filed comments at the FTC arguing that the agency’s proposed privacy principles to protect consumers could be a violation of the First Amendment. But perhaps the NAA–and certainly quadrantOne and its members–can explain what the consortium means what it tells potential advertisers that they can be given “[A]ccess to sophisticated audience targeting by context, behavior and demographics.” quadrantOne has, according to its website: “Total number of unique users: Close to 50 Million.”

The newspaper industry should be scrupulously candid about all its data collection and targeting. While we support newspaper efforts to build up online ad revenues, they should do so in the most ethical manner. Embracing meaningful privacy policies that fully disclose prior to collection, and ensuring affirmative user consent, must be incorporated into our concept of liberty and freedom in the digital democracy era.

The Associated Press on the road to ruin: Murdoch and Zell join board. And its Chairman Dean Singleton needs to be sent to rewrite

Two items from today’s Editor and Publisher:

First: “Rupert Murdoch and Sam Zell, two media figures who led major newspaper acquisitions in recent months, are among four new members joining the board of directors of The Associated Press.”

and: “After addressing the journalists gathered at the annual Associated Press luncheon in Washington, D.C., today, Sen. Barack Obama took a few questions. The last one from the audience, delivered via AP chairman W. Dean Singleton was related to how to troops to Iraq and the threat posed by, as Singleton put it, “Obama bin Laden.”

and so it goes.


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