The Fox Befouling Of MySpace Has Begun

It was inevitable. Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace was going to destroy it. Everyone knew that. Now the evidence is at hand and on display in the New York Times.

The decline begins with monetizing everything that moves. With Fox as the parent company, MySpace becomes just another mainstream vehicle to inject advertising into the tattered veins of a public that is viewed as nothing but consumption junkies. The lust for revenue will overpower whatever social benefit the service presently offers. And for those who hoped that MySpace’s founders, Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, would insulate their brainchild from the suits, they will only be bitterly disappointed by reality. The Times reports this repulsive initiative…

“…to expand one of Mr. DeWolfe’s advertising ideas – turning advertisers into members of the MySpace community, with their own profiles, like the teenagers’ – so that the young people who often spend hours each day on MySpace can become “friends” with movies, cellphone companies and even deodorants. Young people can link to the profiles set up for these goods and services, as they would to real friends, and these commercial “friends” can even send them messages – ads, really, but of a whole new kind.”

Deodorants as a whole new kind of real friend for the young people. Now that’s innovation! But that’s not all. The new bosses think it would be a good idea to start charging the many bands that have created profiles and use the site to develop and connect with their fans. This idea is so bad that even DeWolfe opposes it. Unfortunately, the Fox Interactive Media boss, Ross Levinsohn, has ideas of his own and dismisses DeWolfe’s objections…

“…saying it was appropriate for the people running MySpace to be more concerned at this point about serving users than making money.”

That’s essentially an admission that, at some point in the near future, it will be appropriate to be more concerned about making money than serving users. These examples of commercialization foreshadow precisely how the culture of MySpace will become tarnished and unappealing. Its members will come to feel disinterested and exploited. But I’ve always considered the real threat to be the invasion of privacy by intrusive marketing strategies. This avenue is not being ignored by Fox:

“Mr. Levinsohn says he also hopes to raise ad rates by collecting more user data so advertisers can find the most promising prospects. To use the site, people need to provide their age, location and sex, and often volunteer their sexual orientation and personal interests. Some of that information is already being used to select ads to display. Soon, the site will track when users visit profile pages and other sections devoted to topics of interest to advertisers.”

I’m sure that will provide them with a truckload of demographic data they can use to throw ads at their membership. But they will also know a lot more about their members than any of them would be likely approve. When you combine the personal data that members volunteer with the data that can be collected from the relationships in their network of friends and add the data acquired by monitoring their surfing habits, you end up with a profile that can be awfully revealing.

Knowing that the folks behind MySpace have previously been affiliated with business practices wherein they unlawfully spied on their customers, should give MySpace users sufficient cause for alarm to reconsider remaining in the network.

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Astroturfing Network Neutrality

I was going to write a story about how the big telephone companies have launched a web site to deceive people about the impact of network neutrality. But Blue Meme has already done the work so well, I’m gonna link to it and go watch TV. Thanks, Blue Meme.

Oh yeah, go to Free Press and Save The Internet to learn more and take action.

Moody Disorders: Fox VP Fesses Up

Listening to John Moody, Sr. Vice President at FOX News, you may get the idea that all your worst fears about Fox were too restrained. In this interview with AlterNet, he speaks candidly about the press operation he controls.

The Highlights

On media critics:
“Most of the world envies us and our news media, because it is un-intimidated and — I’m going to make up a word here — largely un-intimidatable. That’s part of our patrimony.” So is making stuff up.

On reporter bias:
“Because of the qualities it takes to succeed in the media, we have bright and responsible people in this business — and bright people have opinions about everything. These opinions stay with them when they put on a reporter’s hat.” So it’s really the hat’s fault.

On staff development:
“I’ve hired more than 100 people here in ten years, and I have never asked about anyone’s personal political beliefs.” Because if I have to ask, they aren’t getting hired.

On charges that his morning memo dictates coverage:
“It’s not even called a ‘memo,’ it’s an editorial note. It is not a political directive — that’s a specious charge — but my attempt to communicate about what are important stories.” …and the difference is…..?

On the obsession with missing white women:?
“These freethinking bloggers amaze me. They refer to ‘dead white women.’ But what about live black pole dancers?” That clears that up.

On faulty pre-Iraq war coverage:
“There’s a misbegotten, self-comforting notion that we live in a country where nothing should ever go wrong — and if it does, someone must be at fault. I think that’s an unrealistic view of the world, and my viewers don’t think that either.” My viewers? What could be less realistic than accountability?

On increasing the variety of perspectives and opinions on Fox:
“Diversity is not necessarily a strength…Take the Duke lacrosse story — suppose there’s someone who believes that rape is good. We could put them on the air, but it wouldn’t add to the discussion.” So putting on a liberal view is analogous to putting on a rape advocate.

In summary:
“I think in ten years we have come to be recognized as a reliable source for alternative news. If some people want to scoff, go ahead. That doesn’t make it right!”

‘Nuff said.

Did The FBI Murder Jack Anderson?

In one of this year’s most under-reported stories, there lies one of this decade’s most ominous threats. Veteran journalist, Jack Anderson, who died last December, is undoubtedly resting uncomfortably while the FBI is seeking access to his files. The FBI contends that certain documents in Anderson’s files are secret and that their release would jeopardize national security.

Anderson was a heralded investigative reporter who broke many stories that surely disturbed some powerful people and institutions. Among them the Keating Five savings and loan affair, and the Iran-Contra scandal. It’s fair to assume that he would have aggressively defended his rights under the first amendment. Anderson’s family and their representatives are declining to cooperate with the FBI’s demands. In a letter to the FBI, the family’s attorneys wrote:

“After much discussion and due deliberation, the family has concluded that were Mr. Anderson alive today, he would not cooperate with the government on this matter. Instead, he would resist the government’s efforts with all the energy he could muster…To honor both his memory and his wishes, the family feels duty bound to do no less.”

Reporters are granted a privilege in the first amendment to the Constitution to conduct their business free of government intervention or intimidation. That includes compiling information and testimony from confidential sources. Without such protection, many knowledgeable, inside sources would decline to talk to reporters at all.

There is a frightening dilution of freedom of the press if that protection ends at the cemetery gates. News sources, whistleblowers, and others with information, the disclosure of which is in the public’s interest, would be far less likely to come forward if they know that their identity could be revealed in the event of the reporter’s death. In many cases this could effectively turn the spigot off with regard to government fraud or misconduct.

There is a far worse scenario that could play out when a source has already spoken to reporter who asserts his rights under the first amendment to keep the source anonymous. The government cannot presently force the reporter to reveal his sources without the intervention of the courts. But if the reporter were to die, under the principle being advanced here by the FBI, the government could retrieve the data they want from the reporter’s estate. Consequently, it would be in the government’s interest for the reporter to die.

Imagine the implications of that, if you dare.

Wanted: White House Mouthpiece

White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, is rumored to be amongst the next wave of administration officials to be spending more time with family. The Washington Times already has an ad for his replacement.

    Click to view full size ad

This skill set describes a a vast pool of potential successors. At the top of that list you might expect to find the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. And you would be correct. The White House’s actual list begins with Fox News anchor Tony Snow. Other candidate names that have been floated include Rob Nichols, former Treasury spokesman, Victoria Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana M. Perino, Deputy Press Secretary, and Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Any other right-wing media shills might want to get their resumes in as soon as possible.

UPDATE: McClellan resigns as White House press secretary.

Keep Your Dissidents

Reporters Without Borders has just released its Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents (pdf). It’s mostly a how-to manual for setting up a blog, along with some tips for anonymity. But this group really understands the need for promoting citizen media:

“Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.”

To the extent that this document inspires new voices to come forth, it’s a welcome and useful project. Anyone who has contemplated their own blog, and who needs a little hand-holding, should download this. One of its chief assets is that it reveals how easy it is to get started blogging and shows just how to do it, quickly and for little or no cost.

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Red Media, Blue Media

Leo J. Shapiro and Associates has conducted a study that highlights some interesting distinctions between consumers of various news products and their political affiliations.

Here’s the breakdown by percentage of Dems vs. Repubs for each type of media:

Red Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Republican.

Repub Demo
TV News: 87% 83%
News Radio: 62% 51%

Blue Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Democratic.

Demo Repub
Local Newspaper: 78% 70%
National Newspaper: 24% 15%
News Magazine: 21% 16%
Internet News: 43% 38%

The most obvious difference is that Democrats tend to read more than Republicans. The problem is that Blue Media, with the exception of the Internet, has been in decline for some time. Print journalism is struggling with lower circulation and consolidation which results in less competition. In terms of political ad revenue, Red Media receives about 22 dollars for every one dollar spent by political ad buyers on Blue Media.

But, while Red Media is dominated by television, which commands the largest share of political ad revenue, Blue Media’s Internet is growing faster than any other venue. Spending for online political advertising increased 733% in 2004. Editor and Publisher, projecting that Internet growth is likely to continue, says that:

“…newspapers have built some of the nation’s best Web sites, giving them the opportunity at all levels of political races — as well as for issue-driven referendums — to offer powerful advertising and promotion mediums.

This is especially true in the realm of “package message” deals that allow political candidates and their supporters fresh and effective means of reaching established constituencies and new supporters through a combination of print and Web advertising and promotion vehicles.”

This report of the study’s findings doesn’t address online ads other than those on newspaper web sites. That leaves a lot of territory uncovered. Internet service providers like AOL and Earthlink, portals like Yahoo and Google, the web homes of broadcasters like CNN and MSNBC, and, of course, blogs, are sure to be a part of the burgeoning online political ad market.

It would be interesting to see if there was any correlation between the ascendancy of Red Media and the Republican sweep of Washington. And conversely, what effect did the decline of Blue Media have on the political misfortunes of Democrats?

There is a very real risk that lawmakers and regulators will take sides by promoting the media color that skews in their favor. Today that means Republicans advocating laws and regs crafted to further concentrate power in Red Media conglomerates – sort of a media-centered K Street Project. The Internet’s Blueness may not endure either, as the FCC moves forward with its assault on network neutrality, along with other efforts to constrain the net’s ordered anarchy.

The media is not a collateral victim in all of this. They are a full partner. And if we expect to restore anything resembling balance we have to be aggressively vigilant. The information in this study can be useful in deciding how best to reach Blue America.

What color is your Media?

Fake News – Corporate Edition

The Center for Media and Democracy has conducted a study that documents the use of Video News Releases from corporations seeking to promote their products through positive news coverage. These VNRs are produced by corporate PR firms and designed to look like actual news reports. The stations that air them do not disclose their origin and, even worse, often re-record introductions and voice-overs with their own reporters to integrate them further into the station’s broadcast. They also do not fact-check any of the claims made by the VNRs.

The disparity in perceptions about VNRs is demonstrated in a report in the New York Times. They cite Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, as charging that regulating VNRs amounts to government intrusion into the affairs of news broadcasters. Then they quote FCC commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, calling the practice a, “disgrace to American journalism” and evidence of “potentially major violations” of F.C.C. rules.

Clearly the RTNDA is more concerned about preserving the right to distribute propaganda than they are about preserving the integrity and credibility of television journalism. And they obviously don’t care much about the public’s right to know either.

But Ms. Cochran is right on one level when she says, “It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.” While the FCC should be monitoring deceptive practices in the press, the stations are not prohibited from behaving ethically on their own. That may be a lot to ask of an industry that has also aired VNR propaganda produced by government agencies and found to be illegal. has more info on this and makes it easy for you to communicate your views to the FCC. It only takes a minute, but its impact can be substantial.

A Bad Year For Journalists

The International Press Institute has released its World Press Freedom Review for 2005. It presents the details of what is a particularly bad year for the press.

“The high death toll for journalists continued in 2005 with 65 journalists killed. Iraq, where 23 journalists died, remains the world’s most dangerous country for the media. Journalists also died in 21 other countries, including Bangladesh, Haiti, Russia, and Somalia.”

Iraq, in fact, has seen the highest number of media deaths for 3 years running, for a total of 65 fatalities since 2003.

The IPI also noted that political demogoguery (like that from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice) is putting a damper on free speech. IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said:

“A free media has always been essential to democracy; however, 2005 saw a subtle shift in this thinking and there is now a worrying political mindset that views some of the media’s work as damaging to both the war on terror and relations with Islam.”

These figures demonstrate the risk that some journalists accept as requisite to the duty they choose to perform. Iraq’s place at the top of the danger scale is both obvious and tragic. Sadly, these numbers don’t include the tens of thousands of civilians that have been killed.

FCC Chief: Too Many Voices In The News

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, told an audience of newspaper publishers that he supports repealing the ban on cross-ownership that prohibits owning a newspaper and television station in the same market. These rules promote greater diversity for news consumers, but Martin would prefer to pander to the media conglomerates he is supposed to be regulating.

In support of his contention that cross-ownership regs hurt publishers, he raises the point that there are some 300 fewer newspapers today than when the regs went into effect 30 years ago. However, it is far more likely that the decline in papers was caused by too much consolidation, not too little.

Martin made clear whose side he is on and, as evidence of his allegiences, he tells the Newspaper Association of America that it is their responsibility to change public opinion that presently favors current law.

“The public is not convinced of the need to change these rules, and if you can’t convince the public, our chances to do that are dim.”

It might be nice if the FCC were advocating on behalf of the public instead of implying that the only thing holding back the publisher’s rule change is the public’s failure to be convinced of the rule’s harm. It might be nice if the FCC recognized that the public just may know what is in it’s own best interest.