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Archive for the 'Money Changes Everything' Category

Free newspaper — paid news?


Dear Tina Chadha and Editors of (Boston) Metro,

I’m not a regular reader of Metro but I happened to flip through today’s issue while on the Green line. On the “Careers and Wealth” page I found a text by Ms. Chadha “Use the Internet to keep on track”  which describes a single product by the Behance network in glowing terms. It includes  3 graphic elements: a picture of the current product and its earlier incarnation and a little button that says “Learn more at” which is the website of the company, not of your publication or some independent or generic organization. (The online version has no graphics, but the text includes a clickable link to the website for the product.) I’m unable to see what distinguishes this item from a marketing pitch for a commercial product. Is it in fact an advertisement? Did Behance compensate Ms. Chadha or Metro for this piece? If so, what is Metro’s policy about labelling such “advertiorial” content? In a brief search, I didn’t see anything that looked like an ethics policy on your site to help readers figure out what your policy about paid articles might be.
If the company didn’t pay for this excellent promotion, you’re doing yourselves a huge disservice by not writing the article in a way that makes that clear. Even more so if Ms. Chadha actually “reported” this story rather than just re-writing a helpful press release.
Feel free to post your response in the comments field on my blog –  I notice you don’t have comments enabled on your site, which is a pity.

Persephone Miel

Image – my own snapshot of the paper version of Metro, since the online version doesn’t have the graphics.

When PR people worry about ethics, you know you have a problem*


Scary must-read column by Michael Bush from this morning’s Ad Age email reports that “19% of the 252 chief marketing officers and marketing directors surveyed said their organizations had bought advertising in return for a news story” and quotes the CEO of the company that did the study saying “I’m not saying it’s a huge problem,” Mr. Hass said. “But 19% of senior marketers saying they do it constitutes a problem.” Never mind that if 19% admit that they do it, how many might actually be doing it??

If you care about the credibility of the online media, you’ll think the problem is huge. Read the whole article to find out how many marketing people said the marketing industry as a whole is not following ethical guidelines in the new-media realm, it’ll send chills down your spine. Besides educating the public to be more skeptical, as Dan Gillmor recommends, is this more the problem of the PR industry failing to live up to a code of ethics? Or the failure of the traditional and/or online media who accept these deals, failing to live up to their own standards? Which is easier to do something about?

Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics 2000 – “Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.”

A Bloggers’ code of Ethics (from “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.”

American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles “Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.”

See also links to many journalism ethics codes from traditional media groups, helpfully collected by ASNE.

*Disclaimer: I have friends who work or have worked in PR who are wonderful and honorable people. Just as I know at least one honest real estate agent, who also happens to be a journalist, book author, and an occasional blogger, (and no, I get no kickbacks for promoting her stuff, she’s just a friend whose work I enjoy and you should too) I’m sure that there are many other good folks in PR, who know the extent of the truth behind the stereotypes of their industry and will therefore have the good sense not to be offended by this headline.

Image: Handshake-Money
Uploaded to Flickr by A.

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image. Attribution

Business model – what’s yours?


My fellow fellow and Global Voices co-founder and general genius Ethan Zuckerman has summarized a discussion he and I and several others had recently about business models that might support investigative and/or international journalism. His blog posting with a list of 12 has sparked a dialogue – I urge you to throw your two eurocents in, especially if you’re working on a project that attempts to solve the funding problem. My two faves so far are cross-subsidy (the Economist model) and translation as cross subsidy.

The focus of this discussion is specifically on how to support investigative journalism and/or international coverage, but we’re interested in business models to support all kinds of quality news and  information. For contrast, you might look at Jeff Jarvis’ recent musings on new business models for newspapers, which is interesting even if it violates my “It’s not about saving newspapers” rule.

Image: Money Back Guarantee by Roby72 / © Some rights reserved.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license

Newspapers deserve to lose their classified ads


Or at least, the Boston Phoenix does, until it fixes its website! I went to Classified/Real Estate/Boston/Sublets (and remember this is a Boston-based paper).  Look closely at the first results I got. They’re ALL for apartments in the beautiful state of Arizona (Conspiracy theorists will ask if the McCain campaign might be behind this?). And they all have the same New Jersey phone number, which appeared in dozens more ads, including some describing apartments in Cambridge and Boston.  It was too late in the day for me to stomach calling it to see what they would try to sell me.

I know the classifieds are free, but so is Craigslist, and they’ve figured out how to keep the spam down (note that the Phoenix’s “report this ad” link doesn’t actually let you do that, it takes you back in to the classifieds).

Tags: advertising, spam

Reaching the “discarded” audience


Reaching Low-Income Audiences was the important if frustrating topic of a session. Maurreen Skowran from Raleigh, NC, convened it. Her personal frustration with her paper’s ability to ignore huge swaths of thr population has led her to develop a project to install digital kiosks to expand Internet access to people who don’t have it at home or at work. First location ideas: laundromats, bus stops, churches. In later conversations, I learn she plans to charge reasonable prices for Internet access (think of airport kiosks) and set the kiosks up with portal pointing to local information sources. Starting in a county with only a weekly paper that has no editorial online presence.

We bounced back and forth between two poles:

a) what a terrible job most traditional media does covering/serving underserved audiences (Vikki Porter calls them “communities of difference”). Best quote on that from Benjamin Melancon: “well there’s no way we can do worse than we’re doing now in terms of content.” (Many of us worry he underestimates the depths still left to sink to.) He has a small non-profit called People Who Give A Damn, apologizes he hasn’t updated the site (naturally, as he is a web guy).
b) inspiring experiments like Maureen’s kiosks and Michael Stoll’s Public Press Project

General agreement that mobile is the future but we need other media in the interim (Michael Stoll made a convincing case for a paper publication). Also that content is as or more important as mechanics, that mainstream journalists have lost touch with huge groups of the population. Not just lower-income, but rural, undigital, non-college educated, etc.

Tom Stites joined us for a while, sent this follow-up note:
Friends — I was cheered to see such a engaged NewsTools conversation about journalism for less-than-affluent people. If you have time and interest, you might find some interesting context in this keynote speech on this very topic that I gave at the 2006 Media Giraffe conference in Amherst:

Let’s keep this conversation going. It’s crucial to the future not only of journalism but of democracy.


Indeed I think it is.

Tags: Newstools2008, poverty, diversity, digital divide,

YOU are the Message


“Content may be king, but the customer is God,” said Richard Sarnoff of Bertelsmann, at We Media Miami.

The comment brought to mind the mantra of my fellow fellow the wise Doc Searls: As readers/viewers/listeners, we’re not customers for ad-supported media, we’re their product. They’re selling our “eyeballs,” “mindshare” and “loyalty” to their godlike customers, the advertisers. I’m with Doc that advertising is not going to go away completely, but a re-imagining is very needed. Maybe the next generation of weblings will not aspire to being publishers (everybody is a publisher, after all, how 5 seconds ago), but the true masters of their own media universe, the advertisers of their product-selves.


Nonprofit journalism


A good session on nonprofit jouranlism here at We Media highlighted terrific work by the Sunlight Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting sadly ran out of time before we could get very far into the issue of how to pay for it.

In perfect accordance with their principles, the Sunlight Foundation publishes a list of their donors, which is a good thing for any nonprofit to do. At the bottom of that list is this sad line

“gifts $250 or under (21 total) $3,148.00”

Not a good sign for the general public supporting nonprofit journalism, I fear.

Struggling Citmedia Site? Try the Guilty Parent Model!


In a fascinating chat with Bill Densmore, director of both the Media Giraffe Project and the New England News Forum a while back he said something that has stuck with me. He said he thinks small-community media organizations trying to survive as all- or mostly volunteer endeavors need to learn how to “become the PTO.” That is, they need to form organizations to which just enough people feel compelled to contribute their time and energy and moderate dues to keep them going and that are able to survive constant attrition (as kids graduate, parents leave, but they are always replaced). I thought this sounded really nice, local journalism as your civic duty for a finite period of time. It also appealed to my personal feeling that the energy of kids is being markedly under-used in this field (to wit, my friend’s daughter’s middle school in a wealthy suburb has computers everywhere and a very extensive website which displays not a single pixel that looks like it was created by — or even for — an 11-year old person).

But as I am not a parent and my own parents were not what you’d call “joiners” (that’s a compliment, Ma) I have zero direct experience of PTOs. And besides, didn’t it used to be called the P T A, not O? I thought I’d be better find out before casually writing one or the other, people can be touchy about names.

As it turns out, very touchy. “All parent groups are not the same,” says the PTA, which was founded in 1897 as the National Congress of Mothers . “The PTA is a not-for-profit organization and the nation’s original and premier parent involvement group in schools. PTA has more than 23,000 local units and nearly 6 million members.” Impressive. Until I learn this: “More than 75 percent of parent groups are independent PTOs that have no affiliation with the National PTA.” That’s from the site of an organization (well, actually, a company) called PTO Today, which in case you were wondering has (in its own words) “quickly established itself at the center of the school parent group world (PTOs/PTAs) as both a valuable resource and a trusted voice to the entire parent group market.” In their helpful article PTO vs. PTA What’s the Difference? they note that “…there is a subtle but undeniable implication in PTA circles that those independent groups that aren’t part of the PTA are in some way choosing to abandon the cause of children.” Nasty.

All this, of course, is fascinating but probably besides the point. Or not. Perhaps some volunteer local news websites would like the local chapter-state chapter-national organization hierarchy of the PTA and others would like to be independent but able to access lots of technical and moral support from the well-meaning folks at If people can’t agree on how to run a bake sale, how will people agree on something as touchy as what kind of news is important? Still, I think there’s something to this, I’m just not quite sure what it is.

No “newsline, press release or piece of note-worthy information” is good news


While looking for the price Disney paid for (never did find it), I spent a little time on the iParenting site and found myself following a link under “latest parenting news” to this article The Use of Donor Eggs for Post-40 Pregnancies. The headers above the short, unsigned text read “Preconception” (the name of one of’s “channels” and below that, “iParenting Family News.”

All seems clear, this is news of interest to people trying to conceive. But who wrote this text and contributed it to the Family News feed? Doesn’t say. The text references “a California study,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Society of Reproductive Mediine(sic). Sounds informative. It also quotes an M.D. from an infertility clinic in Illinois. Fine. And then the last line of the piece helpfully gives a link (just one) to more information – the website of that same for-profit clinic.

At this point, some iParenting readers might pause to consider whether this particular item of content falls under their personal definition of news or might in fact be, say, a pseudo-scientific press release that hopes to steer readers towards a particular medical treatment at a particular facility. But are most couples trying to get pregnant thinking about the source of their information? In answer to my query to iParenting as to whether this was in fact paid-for advertorial, I got this repsonse:

“…the item in question is not an article, rather it is a newsline*, press release or piece of note-worthy information that may or may not help our readers in their pursuit of pregnancy…News is not commercial in nature, paid advertisements nor is it sponsored. It is culled from a variety of reputable sources who put their news out into the media via press release, major information dissemination announcement or by other means.”

* “newsline” is a non-word as far as I can tell; I couldn’t find any reference except as a proper noun.

Ignoring the question of whether it’s stupid not to charge money for such clearly commercial content, is this the curse of iParenting’s fabled success? When you have so many eyeballs to sell, you need all the content you can find, right? So why not mix press releases from pharmaceutical companies and for-profit infertility treatement providers in with those from the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics? (Also random celebrity pregnancy and parenting tidbits from People – just weird) The response from iParenting subtly implies that their readers understand the difference between articles in “latest parenting news” and the bylined “articles” (the word news is notably absent from those pages). Essentially they’ve redefined the word “news” for their own purposes. How innovative.

The website of the Walt Disney Internet Group clarifies everything: “Its paramount mission is to provide a safe, secure environment for consumers to experience the Disney brand anytime and anywhere as they inform and entertain themselves, look to join communities with other Disney fans, or shop for products and services…”

There you go. Disney is not here to inform us, they just want us to experience their brand while we inform ourselves, and if we choose to be informed (or entertained) by press releases aimed at desperate couples that is our personal choice.

Universal media literacy education requirement, anyone?


Read on to scan the full email exchange

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Who is who?


Interesting article that came to me via the indispensable Romenesko makes a plausible case for the Sulzbergers sooner or later selling the NY Times to Google. Reminded me of talking to David Hornik while he was here at Berkman and he just in passing said “the big media companies like Google and Microsoft…” My comment that Google claims not to be a media company justifiably made him giggle.

Meanwhile, I had never seen the site that published the article originally, Real Clear Markets, so I went to their “about us” page and found it and their “contact” page both blank and wondered who they were. I eventually found out by going to their parent Real Clear Politics, which has been around since 2000, aka since the beginning of time (remember, I was specifically hired for this project because I haven’t been paying attention to this stuff till now). But I wondered whether there has been discussion in the community? industry? about a standard for disclosure of ownership structure, business models, etc. Another task for a watchdog/media literacy ngo I suppose.