Daily Mail, Google, Class, Power, and Incentives

April 20, 2021

The estimable Daily Mail is a newspaper. The owner of the Daily Mail is the Daily Mail and General Trust plc. The big dog at the outfit is The Fourth Viscount Rothermere. Titles are important in England. Crickets the game. “Plumby tones” was crafted to describe the accents some Americans long to have. Dim lights, dark rooms, and hushed tones are also important.

Now the Viscount’s minions are demonstrating that none of their scion are likely to be tagged “googley.” According to the equally estimable Wall Street Journal, the “Daily Mail Owner Files Antitrust Suit Against Google, Citing Royals Coverage.” Gentle reader, you will have to pay Mr. Murdoch to read this interesting story which is completely unbiased and presents the idea that the Google is abusing the Viscount’s ad sales unit.

The core of the story is that Google suppresses Daily Mail content because the Daily Mail is not selling enough Google ads. More popups are needed! The reason is not that those stories are not Savile Row grade stories. The cause of this discrimination of the caste-centric Google and the caste-centric Viscount is quotas.

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the antics of two outfits, obsessed with power and getting their way, are jousting over advertising consumed by those not in the rosy glow of the upper crusts.

The irony of the Google caste system (represented by Pichai Sundararajan) and the Fourth Viscount Rothermere is delicious. Didn’t India once view Britain as a glowing source of guidance?

I have no doubt that this dust up is about money, but it is also about power. Google has power right now. The Viscount remembers the power it once had. America! The colonies.

How will this unfold? No chirping merry in this dispute.

Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2021

Thomson Reuters: A Phase Change to Monitor

April 16, 2021

You may not be familiar with a beaver sejant erect proper blowing upon a hunting horn in silver with a big deer in the mix. You may not recall the origins of Thomson Reuters (TR) as a seller of radios in Ontario, Canada. You may not remember the shift from newspapers to professional publishing. That’s not a surprise. Most people do not know the names of the hundreds of specialty titles generated by the “slicing and dicing” of Thomson Reuters’ professional content. Some may be aware that Thomson Reuters is undergoing another transformation or a return to its roots.

Reuters Website Goes Behind Paywall in New Strategy” reports a shift this way:

The newly revamped Reuters.com is hoping to attract professional audiences prepared to pay $34.99 per month for a deeper level of coverage and data on industry verticals that include legal, sustainable business, healthcare and autos.

In the online business, there are numerous ways to generate money. TikTok videos does not seem to be a good fit for a professional publisher at least yet. TR has a “must have” history; that is, the company produces information that professionals have to buy to remain in business or obtain the data needed to stay in business. Examples include legal information and dozens of other electronic properties. You can get a reasonable list at this location. There are about 1,500 products.

Selling to law firms and accounting firms has become tricky. There are lots of lawyers and accountants, but there are not too many who can afford the “must have” online products and services. Selling to libraries has also become difficult. There are low ball vendors who offer good enough content, but the big challenge is thumbtypers. These rascals perceive the Google as the universal library, and it appears to be free to use. Pesky government agencies make some content available which erodes the lawyers’ and accountants’ appetite for spending money for online, loose-leaf services, and books. A lawyer or accountant can use a stock shot of bookcases and convey to a client a deep library of knowledge whilst working from a space in the kitchen.

Newspapers don’t work, and TR is unlikely to give Substack a whirl. TR may acquire Substack, but that’s a different approach. YouTube could be a source of revenue, but certain information like explanations of indifference curves almost demand a traditional classroom and old fashioned study groups in student unions or coffee shops.

The wizards with spreadsheet fever assume that a “professional” business person will have to subscribe to the TR product, the socially sensitive New York Times, the estimable Murdoched Wall Street Journal, the magazine called a newspaper with the fetching title “Economist,” and the orange Financial Times. Toss in the HBR and maybe a specialized service providing milspecs, and the money will just roll in. What if it doesn’t? Hey, change the assumptions. “Exercise” the model. Works like a champ.

How many business professionals will pay for these digital subscriptions? How many will sign up for the TR online service? How much will the “professional” business person pay each month to stay informed?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but the financial reports of TR and its fellow travelers will be fascinating to review. If university MBA programs survive, perhaps there will be a case study of the consequences of the digital revolution upon the great pivoters. The proof is in the revenue assuming the executives’ incentive plans are well crafted.

TR’s competitors are probably going to do some stag hunting in order to survive. They too have to make a buck.

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2021

Innovation in News: The Facebook Google Method

March 17, 2021

I read “Daily Telegraph Plans to Link Journalists’ Pay with Article Popularity.” The idea of a feedback loop is a proven money maker. A person clicks on content he or she likes. The system notes the clicks and provides more content on point with what the user clicked on. Round and round the loop the user goes. Whee. What fun!

Now the concept has been applied to “real” journalists. Write something that gets clicks or is popular. The “real news organization” counts the clicks and eject money for those clicks. Whee. What fun!

According to the write up:

An email sent by the editor, Chris Evans, last Thursday told staff that “in due course” the outlet wants to use the “Stars” system, which scores stories published online according to factors such as how many subscriptions they drive and how many clicks they get, “to link performance to reward” using subscription data. Evans said: “It seems only right that those who attract and retain the most subscribers should be the most handsomely paid,” and noted that working out the details would be “complicated” so that “we’re not ready to do that … yet”.

Old timers who do their reporting by calling public school mates or hanging out in pubs now have to put their trembling fingers on the pulse of those who read “real news.”

That may be a challenge. Thumbtypers are different from news consumers of yore.

Here’s a thought. The Daily Telegraph can recruit more agile reporters from the ranks of TikTok phenoms.

Can these next-gen reporters write? Sure, but the clicks count now, not the pyramid structure, savvy references, and sharp quotations.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2021

Real News: Perhaps One Should Refine Real As Content Warranted by Existential Phenomena?

February 26, 2021

I got a kick out of the allegedly accurate story about “real” news outfits’ information. The story is called “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat Participated in Covert UK Foreign Office-Funded Programs to Weaken Russia, Leaked Docs Reveal.” I want to remind you, gentle reader, that Reuters’ news stories carry this footer: Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Years ago at a conference in London, a representative of the Beeb explained to me that its online behavior was governed by its Code of Conduct, which states:

OUR VALUES

We don’t just focus on what we do – we also care how we do it. So we have six values that everyone across the BBC shares. They’re what we expect from ourselves and each other. These values aren’t just words. We use them to guide our day-to-day decisions and the way we behave when we’re working with other people.

(I just heard chords from Mozart’s Requiem, did you?) And Bellingcat? A fine outfit lacking only taglines with the word “trust” and the rather thin code of conduct thing with a dead link to the “actual” code.

The write up reports in somber tones:

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have sponsored Reuters and the BBC to conduct a series of covert programs aimed at promoting regime change inside Russia and undermining its government across Eastern Europe and Central Asia… The leaked materials show the Thomson Reuters Foundation and BBC Media Action participating in a covert information warfare campaign aimed at countering Russia. Working through a shadowy department within the UK FCO known as the Counter Disinformation & Media Development (CDMD), the media organizations operated alongside a collection of intelligence contractors in a secret entity known simply as “the Consortium.”

Let’s assume that the content in the source materials is spot on. Several observations are warranted:

  • The method seems like something from a Brian Freemantle novel. Perhaps the source?
  • Are the notions of “trust” and “codes of conduct” appear to be marketing yip yap?
  • What constitutes real news: Fake news from real outfits or real news from leaked documents?

Interesting story if accurate.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2021

Garbaged Books Become a Library

February 23, 2021

People throw away books. When I was younger and in the pre Kindle era, I would leave books I finished reading in seat back pockets on airplanes. My thought was that someone would find the book and read it. I know this was one of those virtue signaling efforts which resulted in flight attendants putting the books in the trash. Oh, well. I tried a little.

I read “Turkish Garbage Collectors Open a Library from Books Rescued from the Trash.” According the the write up, the library numbers 6,000 books and has a children’s section. No kidding? Children read?

The article states:

All the books that are found are sorted and checked for condition, if they pass, they go on the shelves. In fact, everything in the library was also rescued including the bookshelves and the artwork that adorns the walls … Today, the library has over 6,000 books that range from fiction to nonfiction and there’s a very popular children’s section that even has a collection of comic books. An entire section is devoted to scientific research and there are also books available in English and French.

In the Jefferson County, Kentucky, area in which we live, it is necessary to call the library. One must get an appointment to pick up a book. Convenient indeed.

It appears that the garbaged books are available to anyone who can walk to the library. No appointment needed it seems. Have the publishers sued to stop this practice? The article does not indicate that the trash collectors merit the attention of legal eagles.

Stephen E Arnold, February 23, 2021

The Unthinkable: Will Google News and Facebook Pay Publishers for Content?

February 15, 2021

Regulators are beginning to agree with publishers that platforms like Google News should pay for the content they post. News Showcase is Google’s answer to this trend, and The Verge reveals it is operating in two new countries in, “Google Now Pays 450 Sites to Bring You Free News, Including Some Paywalled Stories.” In the UK, 120 publishers have enlisted in alongside 40 in Argentina. Those nations join Germany and Brazil, where News Showcase launched last year, and Australia, which joined in just last week. The last example is in interesting study in regulatory pressure and corporate acquiescence. Writer Jon Porter explains:

“Last week, Google News Showcase launched in Australia, a country where the company is currently locking horns with lawmakers over new rules that could force it to pay news publishers for their content. Google recently threatened to pull its search engine from the country if the News Media Bargaining Code goes into effect. Last week, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he’d held ‘constructive’ talks with Google CEO Sundar Pichai over the new rules. The situation means that although seven Australian publishers have joined the program, covering over 25 publications, The Guardian reports that one outlet, Nine, chose not to negotiate with Google until the new code is brought in. In an FAQ, Google says it believes News Showcase should be compatible with the new rules, since publishers are free to enter into arbitration if they don’t like Google’s News Showcase deal.”

Google plans to soon add France, Canada, and Japan to its News Showcase roster. Meanwhile, Facebook has a similar plan. It is phasing content for which it is actually paying publishers into its News tab, which serves up both curated and personalized content. The initiative started in the US and recently began operation in the UK. Now we know the big tech companies are not completely impervious to regulatory pressure. What is next?

Cynthia Murrell, February 15, 2021

Who Knew That Journalism Could Channel the Worldwide Wrestling Federation?

February 12, 2021

In this corner, the newspaper founded by Alexander Hamilton and now owned by the News Corporation. In case you did not know, News Corporation is the nurturer of “real” news outfits like Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal), some outfits in England, and Harper Collins. Like Crocodile Dundee, News Corporation is a tough bit of kangaroo jerky. You may recall that some Murdochers were involved in what Wikipedia describes in an amusing way as the “news international phone hacking scandal.” I can see the laser lights and hear the death metal soundtrack now.

In the other corner is the Gray Lady, clutching its digital subscription financial reports, like a mace. The Gray Lady is a deceptive entity. Due to age or a careless record retention policy, the New York Times’ power house does not recall that Wikipedia summarizes this way:

Controversies include allegations of biased and inaccurate reporting of the Russian Revolution, reporting on Wen Ho Lee’s alleged theft of government documents, the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, articles by Judith Miller, the MoveOn.org ad controversy, the 2006 Duke lacrosse team scandal, the John McCain lobbyist controversy in 2008, and various accusations of: plagiarism, a leftist bias, Anti-Indian sentiment, Anti-British sentiment, and Antisemitism.

Does the Gray Lady remember muffing the online ball almost 50 years ago when Jeff Pemberton deployed the newspaper’s first digital service? I would be a WWF ticket stub that she nor her minions do. Cue the lasers. Crank up the rap music.

What are these two estimable outfits squabbling about?

The New York Post’s “real” news article “Read the Column the New York Times Didn’t Want You to Read” reports:

Last weekend, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a piece criticizing the rationale behind the forced ouster of Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., but it was never published. Stephens told colleagues the column was killed by publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Since then, the piece has circulated among Times staffers and others — and it was from one of them, not Stephens himself, that The Post obtained it. We publish his spiked column here in full.

Is this the end of the story?

Nope. Two sweaty and quite capable contestants have now stepped into the ring. I await the bell and an opportunity to purchase a pay per view ticket so that I can enjoy the tussle.

Who knew that “real” news could be so exciting? I assume that the streaming video game version of this event will be available. Will there be an Amazon or Netflix content object available? The NFL has a good business model to emulate.

I must go. The referee is explaining the rules: No low blows, no eye gouging, etc. Would these contestants violate the ref’s instructions? Not with intent I assume.

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2021

Reclaiming Reality: Struggling with the What The World Actually Is

February 5, 2021

I was amused by the odd ball headline “Reclaiming Reality From Chaos” which contained not one business story in the Business section of the estimable New York Times but two. What was it that the odd duck at General Motors said? Oh, right, something like two objectives is no objective. Two separate business stories under one headline makes clear that “chaos” is alive and quite healthy in the Gray Lady’s printy and digitally world.

The segment which caught my attention is “How the Biden Administration Can Help Wean Americans from the Scourge of Hoaxes and Lies.” (I will not bring up the scourge of veracity issues which have clung to the Gray Lady’s rayon garb with the tenacity of fur shed from my French bulldog and my polyester track jacket. That lovable dog’s fur is “sticky.” Good for social media: Not so good for fashionistas.

The write up consists of suggestions in the business news section of the newspaper for the Biden administration. The sources of these suggestions seem to be academia, non governmental organizations, and one cyber centric outfit in the UK. (The UK? Definitely on top of the US thing because Merrie Olde Angleland has done a bang up job with civil unrest, the California Royals, and the extremely well executed Brexit thing.)

What are the suggestions? Here’s my understanding of the principal outputs of “real business news” research into America’s national reality crisis. I am tempted to bring up that old chestnut relished by philosophy professors asking 18 and 19 year olds to define “reality.” I won’t. Reality is an issue which has reduced some thought wizards to insanity. Obviously this is not the Gray Lady’s crossword. To the suggestions:

  1. Create new labels for malefactors. Don’t call the Proud Boys terrorists like the Canadians. Get a new hashtag.
  2. Create a reality czar. When I read this idea, I thought of Frank Zarb, the “energy czar” appointed by President Gerald Ford. Mr. Zarb was okay, but his junior czar was a piece of work. And I will not bring up, “What is reality?” again.
  3. Vet the big boys’ algorithms. I wonder if the Facebook and Google type outfits will talk or print out the code and allow US government contractors to dig through the information. I wonder if Deloitte or Booz, Allen would get this job. My next question, “Where will these firms find the contractors to do the code work?” Most MBAs are not able to make sense of trivial algorithms like those crafted by the Facebooks and Googles of the world in the last few years. No disrespect, but consulting firms have other competencies. (See my article about McKinsey in today’s Beyond Search stream for a timely example.)
  4. Do the social stimulus thing. The idea is to fix “people’s problems.” That’s a great idea. How are the social programs to deal with the Covid Rona thing working out?

Let’s step back. I want to offer several observations:

First, what the heck is this type of editorial – opinion thing doing in the business section of a major newspaper? What’s wrong with the editorial page or, better yet, the Style section. But business news? Nope.

Second, the use of terms like chaos and reality. The references to the cause of the reality / chaos problem are interesting. In the philosophy class in which I suffered in my sophomore year in college, the failure to define terms would have evoked sharp criticism from the wonderful but mostly off kilter person who taught the course.

Third, the idea that using new words to create categories for people is interesting. Jacques Ellul explains this process in his book Propaganda. Yep, categories work in certain contexts. I won’t explain those contexts. Ellul does a good job of this.

Fourth, the notion that social programs will solve problems is interesting. I wish I could think of a social program which has worked to change people. Readers are invited to remind me so I can fill in the gaps of my knowledge.

Net net: How about business news in the Business section. Put the reality chaos stuff someplace else? Maybe Medium or Substack or on a Gray Lady podcast.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2021

Mom and Pop Online Ad Vendor Warrants Cutting Words from Down Under

February 2, 2021

I read “Shrill Threats: Google Risks Losing Media Fight.” The author seems not to be in fear of the acumen, the management prowess, and the business brilliance of the mom and pop online ad vendor. One should, I suppose, feel Googzilla’s pain. Amazon is on a tear in product search. The rattled Facebook continues to suck in advertiser money. Apple sells high margin hardware and has multiple revenue streams dumping cash into the weird Apple building.

The point of the story in the Sydney Morning Herald was to underscore the way in which the GOOG is perceived in Australia. Its country manager and the goal of playing hardball with folks who are quite hardy is news. After cutting a deal with the wine and cheese crowd in France, Google wants to avoid paying for content. Hey, content can be scraped like snow from a drive way. The difference is that real snow scraping can cause heart attacks. The Google scraping has caused anger to build among some publishers in Australia. The result may be more than a snowball fight.

Here’s the passage I circled in Google blue:

is beyond time. The issues surrounding big tech monopoly power have been a matter of controversy for years and there is compelling historical precedent for governments to act to break the market dominance. Big tech had the financial resources to nip this in a bud long ago. But they lacked strategic insight, not understanding that unless they adjusted their mantra around free content and looked more broadly at the what constitutes public good: governments would inevitably act. Instead their response has been arrogant, financially mean and wrapped in denial now translating into shrill threats.

I added some emphasis to you, gentle reader, can ponder a comment no Silicon Valley whiz has had an opportunity to enjoy previously. Imagine Googzilla emitting a shrill howl. Pretty vivid audio. I wonder if Google Translate can make sense of those Googley sounds? Probably not. I think the Google’s lawyers will do the talking.

Stephen E Arnold, February 2, 2021

A Classy Approach to Editorial Controls

February 2, 2021

Off and on over the decades, I have worked with some publishing outfits: Some were big with lawyers and accountants turning the screws on those far down in the hierarchy. Others were small, operating out of offices the size of a shipping container in a run down neighborhood in Boston. I even worked for a “real” newspaper, hired by the eccentric owner Barry Bingham Jr. to assist the then nationally recognized Courier Journal to succeed in the electronic information sector in 1981. After the break up of the newspaper, I ended up working in a techno business role at a big time New York City publishing company.

But in my professional career, I can state with reasonable confidence that I have not heard editorial control processes described as methods to deal with “daily active sh*t heads.” The quote appears in this story: “Reddit’s CEO Has a Colorful Nickname for the Redditors Who Ruin It for Everyone.” If the individual identified in the write up did make this statement, the word “colorful” does not aptly characterize the situation.

Here’s my take:

  1. Online information platforms use 230 as a way to dodge responsibility to deliver useful information provided in exchange for some value (ads, subscriptions, donations, etc.)
  2. Editorial controls should have been implemented the day the service went live in 2005 or so, not 15 years later. The accountability clock seems to be running or stopped.
  3. Users has always reminded me of those addicted, but “sh*t heads is neither appropriate nor accurate. With appropriate controls developed since our pal Gutenberg made waves, the craziness was neither necessary or facilitated.

Net net: The “sh*t heads” in this situation are the managers who abrogated their responsibility to deliver useful, accurate information. (By the way, Reddit is a hot bed of quite fascinating content, and that content can be manipulated by skilled bad actors.”

As I said, Reddit, not its users, are those with heads comprised of a substance some find offensive. Users, before you think I am okay with you, an editorial process would block or marginalize your rejected information so that you were encouraged to find a more companionable outlet for your thoughts, dreams, fetishes, hopes, and inner psychological voice.

Stephen E Arnold, February 2, 2021

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