Facebook vs. Google, Gawker vs. Roger Ailes: It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

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In a high-tech case of pot-calling-the-kettle-black, Facebook was outed this week for attempting to plant commentary critical of Google and its loosey-goosey approach to its users' privacy. For this foreshadowing of the coming war between the lords of search and social, we can thank two folks. The first is Chris Soghoian, who posted an email from Facebook's PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, attemping to get him to author -- or at least slap his name on -- an anti-Google piece. Here's Burson-Marsteller:

In light of the recent agreement between the government and Google, Congress and the FTC must immediately investigate this latest violation of online privacy. The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day -- without their permission. I'm happy to help place the op-ed and assist in the drafting, if needed. For media targets, I was thinking about the Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call or the Huffington Post.

The second is The Daily Beast's Dan Lyons, who, in connecting Facebook to the smear campaign, called the Burson-Marsteller execs "two guys from one of the biggest and best-known PR agencies in the world, blustering around Silicon Valley like a pair of Keystone Kops." It was a great scoop, though I couldn't help but wish for more specifics on the evidence that Mr. Lyons adduced to convince Facebook to come clean.

The Columbia University Journalism School's in-depth look this week at the online newsgathering business was a long read, but worth it. One of highlights is this quote from a newspaper company executive that sets up the central challenge for the trade:

"Creating content doesn't ensure a well-sized audience," says Chris Hendricks, vice president of interactive media at newspaper chain McClatchy Co. "We're accepting of the fact that the two may be disengaged." He then adds something one wouldn't have heard a few years ago from a media executive: "The longstanding premise of content and advertising being inextricably linked has clearly fallen apart."

McClatchy and other companies are turning toward selling advertising space on other sites, including Facebook and Yahoo. "It's almost like we are a sales and distribution company that decided we're going to fund journalism," says Hendricks.

Almost a companion piece to that insight, David Carr's look at the magazine publishing industry's pricing strategy for iPad subscriptions should send shivers through anyone still thinking the device is going to save the Conde Nasts of the world. The peg was New Yorker's new subscription deal: $69.99 for the weekly magazine and full web and iPad access, equating to just $1.40 a week for a load of top-quality content. To Mr. Carr, this bargain is merely an extension of publishers' historical pricing strategy: keep the product cheap to aggregate large audiences that will in turn lure advertisers. It's a guarantee that the "whims of advertisers" will continue to control the magazine industry's future, even as it plays out on shiny new toy. Wrote Mr. Carr:

As the chief purveyor of the $.99 song, Apple, of course, is always in favor of cheap, simple pricing, so they've been encouraging publishers to get low in their initial offers. In an interview Monday at Conde Nast about The New Yorker offer, Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet services, suggested that "publishers can make it up on volume."

Of course, there is volume and then there is volume. Apple has sold some 10 billion songs on iTunes. Publishers confront much, much smaller numbers trying to sell professional produced content to a specialized audience.

The new offer at The New Yorker is going to be huge, perhaps doubling its circulation of 1 million over time as digital adopters and bargain shoppers finally grab their own copy rather than cadging it from friends. But the rich advertising opportunity that will produce may be a less durable and less stable business than grinding out highly profitable circulation over the long haul.

Gawker's John Cook continued his dogged and doggedly amusing reporting on Fox News chief Roger Ailes' hobby: ownership of two of the three papers in upstate New York's Putnam County, where the Ailes have a retreat. Life hasn't been fun for the 80-year-old owner of a third paper, who Mr. Ailes confronted a few weeks ago about things he'd written. Don Hall was poked -- and not in a Facebooky way -- called a liar, and threatened with legal action by Mr. Ailes. Mr. Cook's been all over the story, enough to have warranted this response:

Keep in mind that Ailes was paid $22 .7 million by News Corp. last year, and somehow he finds the time for small-town intrigue and shitfights in tiny burgs.

Indeed, if you had any doubt as to how paranoid the Aileses are, or how seriously they take their country papers, consider this: At 11:52 a.m. today, I purchased a digital subscription to the News and Recorder in order to read its coverage of the official papers issue. At 12:20 p.m., I sent an e-mail to Elizabeth Ailes seeking comment for this story. At 12:56 p.m., I received an e-mail from the News and Recorder informing that my subscription had been canceled.

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