|Was it good for you, Baby?|
Something is officially fishy at The New York Times. It’s been obvious for awhile that the editorial oversight of the Technology section of the online paper was not subject to the same rigorous standards as the more traditional news sections (one need only track the baffling ascendancy of the gossipy Saul Hansell for evidence), and I’ve commented here on some of the more egregious [recent] [examples] of apparently favorable treatment that Google has received from one of the Times’ tech writers. But this weekend, something happened that was categorically different. On Friday, they published a column by Randall Stross entitled, “Why the Google-Yahoo Ad Deal Is Nothing to Fear,” that presents many of the anti-anti-trust arguments that Google has been making in favor of the pending Google-Yahoo ad merger that is now under review by both the Department of Justice and the European Commission. The article is significantly deceptive. The author regurgitates Google PR boilerplate about how the deal will not risk price-fixing by Google, though they will basically control somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of search advertising, because Google’s system is auction-based and (in theory) advertisers set the prices. Stross then compromises his own argument by acknowledging that prices may be higher than in the current environment with Yahoo acting as a competitor to Google but so what? — the quality of ad delivery from Google’s system is worth the increment. Stross works very hard to pitch the concerns about Google’s growing monopoly position as mere corporate warfare on the part of Microsoft — and quotes David Kenny, of the ad holding company Publicis, on the beneficial effects the deal could have for Yahoo and the advertising environment. What Stross neglects to mention is that Publicis is a business partner of Google and stands to benefit, through [preferential pricing], from the deal. Additionally, what the New York Times neglects to inform its readers is that Randall Stross — identified in his byline as “an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University” is the author of a book about Google to be released this month that, according to [advance press], “[is] Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive ‘Googleplex,'”. Sounds cozy, no?
Access is the key, more on that in a moment…
The New York Times is not alone, of course, in apparently bending their standards when it comes to reporting on Google. Last week Jeff Jarvis, a former associate publisher of the New York Daily News and reporter for the Chicago Tribune turned New Media gadlfy published a [post] on his popular blog entitled, “Google: Monopoly or Marketplace?” written in response to a [piece] by Joe Nocera of the Times [important to note — Nocera is a Business columnist who only writes occasionally about tech matters] that raised concerns about Google’s transparency. In his post, Jarvis downplays the need for regulatory involvement in the Google-Yahoo deal by arguing that it’s in Google’s own interest to regulate itself and avoid any hint of impropriety. Like Stross, he doesn’t deny that after a deal with Yahoo Google would hold a monopoly over search advertising, but he believes that market innovation and Google’s own transparency might keep it from becoming a threat. He should re-read Nocera’s piece to get a sense of their transparency. Unlike Stross, Jarvis discloses that he is also publishing a book about Google and admits that his book is admiring of the company. The disclosure is one step ahead of the Times and is appreciated because it provides a lens through which we can critically assess his sentiments.
People who write about business are completely dependent upon access to executives that they write about. Google knew this when they embargoed CNet back in 1995 for publishing an [article] that used the search engine to disclose personal details about CEO Eric Schmidt. It was an extraordinary reaction — to punish a news organization by shutting off all access — and typical of a company that believes they play by different rules. At the time I wondered what the aftermath would be and now I know — it worked. It effectively put tech journalists on notice that if they wanted access to the company that would be the dominant player in the most important new medium of the 21st century they’d better be friendly.
UPDATE 9/25: Jeff Jarvis left a comment saying that he did not seek access from Google in the preparation of his book. A reference to (presumed) access on his part has been removed from the section addressing him.