Mr. Spanfeller is accusing the Times of "competitive hypocrisy" after an article Aug. 28 questioned the real number of people who visit the Forbes website and what they're even doing there.
Checking out topless beaches?
That article, headlined "At Forbes.com, Lots of Glitter but Maybe Not So Many Visitors," took up competitors' complaints that plenty of Forbes.com visitors aren't there for business news, but instead trolling ForbesAutos.com or checking out traffic-bait such as "The Hottest Billionaire Heiresses," "Top Topless Beaches" and "America's Drunkest Cities."
But the piece also noted that Forbes.com touts traffic figures calculated internally, even though such "log file" numbers are almost double what a third-party estimate shows.
"The New York Times' own website presents higher unique visitors than third-party numbers show," Mr. Spanfeller wrote in a letter sent yesterday to Lawrence Ingrassia, editor of the Times business section, and Byron Calame, the public editor.
The article allowed that Forbes.com is "hardly" the only site to publicize higher traffic figures than those generated by third parties such as ComScore Media Metrix and Nielsen/NetRatings -- but that wasn't enough to appease Mr. Spanfeller.
Wagging a finger
"Shame on you!" his letter continued. "Not for promoting the Times' own log file numbers, but for suggesting we are somehow wrong in promoting our log file numbers while doing so yourself and failing to point it out specifically in the article. That smacks of competitive hypocrisy."
In a message sent to Mr. Spanfeller today and shared with Advertising Age, Mr. Ingrassia disputed Mr. Spanfeller's assertions that the article omitted certain key points. Mr. Ingrassia agreed, however, that the article should have described how the Times describes its web traffic.
"You're right," he wrote. "Precisely because of the competitive issue that you raise, we endeavor to say what the Times Co.'s practice is whenever writing about a media issue. We failed to do so in this case and should have, though after conferring with our standards editor, I don't think that this warrants a correction."