Yahoo’s deal with the newspaper industry

by Jeff Chester, Digital Destiny

We are troubled, as are many, about the crisis occurring within the U.S. daily newspaper industry. The lay-offs, cut backs, and other problems besetting such distinguished papers as the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Philadelphia Inquirer, and too many others, requires the attention of policy makers and civic leaders. We believe a principal cause for the current problem are publishers and newspaper holding companies whose first interest is squeezing out maximum revenue returns—for themselves and shareholders. Newspapers can make a reasonable profit and support serious journalism. But when they are seen as just another vehicle designed to generate lots of cash, the defenders of the First Amendment have been replaced by white-collar criminals. It’s time for new federal laws that would enable newspapers to be operated without regard to maximizing shareholder return.

We also know we are in a key transition period for all media. That’s why we should publicly examine all the major deals shaping our future information landscape—to determine how well they will serve the public interest [Yes. We think that’s more important than just making money from the deals]. So, when William Dean Stapleton, CEO of MediaNewsGroup, says in a joint statement that the new partnership with Yahoo! and 176 newspapers is “transformational”–it requires a closer look. Some of the biggest names in the news business—Belo, Cox, Hearst, Scripps and MediaNews—have now hitched their digital wagons to Yahoo! Papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and Dallas Morning News are now a part of what is called the “most comprehensive advertising network in the online industry.” A major facet of the deal, notes the release, is for the papers to “[U]se Yahoo!’s search monetization functionality on newspapers Web sites, such as Web search, downloads of the Yahoo! toolbar and sponsored search.”

We recognize that newspapers must boldly work to secure new digital revenues. But in doing so, they must be responsible. That includes explaining carefully to every reader and user the kind of personal and other data Yahoo! is now able to collect and financially harvest. Readers/users need to know how Yahoo! and its newspaper partners will “target” them. When Yahoo! acquired rich media ad firm AdInterax last month, they noted that “Rich media technology enables marketers to create more compelling and interactive advertising units online using sight, sound and motion to deliver a message to target consumers. Yahoo! plans to further integrate rich media capabilities into its current leading offerings by developing a self-service model for marketers based on the AdInterax platform. This new rich media solution will enable advertisers and agencies to create and run rich media campaigns coupled with other Yahoo! capabilities including behavioral targeting, geo-targeting, demo-targeting, and dayparting.” The release also noted that “the AdInterax tracking and reporting module tracks traditional metrics including impressions, clicks, and reach and frequency, in addition to other key branding and direct marketing data.”

Newspapers should be protecting the privacy of the public—from both the excesses of government as well as commercial interests. Journalistic-related companies should make deals with online marketers such as Google and Yahoo! which place the privacy interests of readers/users first. We suggest that the editors from the papers now working with Yahoo! commission stories that will explain the deal in terms of what data is being collected and how it will be used. Then, the papers should run editorials calling on Congress to pass meaningful privacy safeguards on electronic data gathering. But—if they did that—wouldn’t it now threaten the very deal they just made? We will be tracking this story.

PS: We also want to see the same privacy-related disclosure from the 50 papers now involved with Google, via a deal announced earlier this month. They include the New York Times and Washington Post.

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