The New York Times and net neutrality

by Jeff Chester, Digital Destiny

This week the New York Times editorial page weighed in to support national legislation requiring network neutrality (”Protecting Internet Democracy,” January 3, 2007. Reg. may be required). We share those sentiments, of course. It’s time for a law that restores and extends Internet non-discrimination in the U.S. But we also believe that news organizations need to inform readers/viewers/users about how their own corporate relationships are affected by communications policy issues. The New York Times Co. is staking much of its future on digital media, including interactive advertising. For example, it acquired the About.com informational web service in 2005 for $410 million. The goal, said Times Co. officials, was to “increase the company’s revenue from the expanding online advertising business.” The Times Co. has historically been a leader in developing interactive marketing techniques, including so-called “surround sessions” which enable advertisers to digitally follow New York Times online users as they access the paper electronically. Indeed, as we cover in our new book, Digital Destiny, the Times Co.’s Martin Nisenholtz (who heads its digital operations) has been an key ad industry leader promoting the advance of interactive data collection and personalized targeted marketing. Few Times readers and users really understand what the Times Co. is doing with all this data in the service of its advertisers.

The Times Co. requires network neutrality—otherwise it knows it will have to pay a digital version of the Mafioso-like vig to Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T. The major phone and cable conglomerates want to charge everyone an assortment of fees for higher-speed Internet distribution, creating a de facto pay toll road for broadband. Given that everyone will be distributing video-centered multimedia to TV’s, cell phones and PC’s, having such “premium for a price” Internet access will be a necessity to prosper in the Web 2.0 and beyond era. Therefore, the Times Co must have network neutrality if its investments in About.com and other “new media” related strategies will return the profits to help support its journalism (which is a key reason why the country requires network neutrality. Without it, serious journalism will be in future jeopardy—as it is today).

Today, the Times reported that its parent company was selling off its television station group. It’s another indication that the Times Co. (wisely) understands its future lies with broadband. But the success of such a business model depends in part on an open Internet. We believe that the Times should have explained to its readers that when it supports network neutrality, it has its own financial future at stake. The paper, and the rest of the Times properties, should also begin to inform its users about the range of data collection and targeted electronic marketing its doing. Complete and full disclosure should be the rule—not an after-thought serving as fodder for bloggers.

article originally published at http://www.democraticmedia.org/jcblog/?p=148.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey