Current Events

LA Times files Chapter 11, is Googlezon upon us?

Last year in April, I put out an open wager that one of the top 100 newspapers in America would stop printing it’s daily paper. The wager had a long horizon and the service changed hands from something called BluBet to dotblu so I lost track of it but a tweet from an old Dow Jones colleague prompted me to do a bit of research.

141 people joined me in my wager and 89% of them went along with my prediction that someone on this list would halt print operations. We were wrong on the timeline (compare 2005 & 2007 newspaper circulation figures) but The Christian Science Monitor announced in October that they would cease print operations in April 2009. Today we read that the Tribune Company, owners of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times (to name a few) is re-organizing under Chapter 11.

One under appreciated consequence to GM, Ford, or Chrysler going under is that the auto dealerships they support are a huge source of newspaper advertising revenue. My local paper has an entire section devoted to a couple of fluff reviews and many pages of automobile ads, both full-pagers for the dealerships and several pages for the classifieds. Without this subsidy, one wonders how the papers will carry on?

Is the daily paper a luxury of times past? Remember the 8-minute short, Epic 2014?  There was a quote in there, “The New York Times becomes a print-only newsletter for the elderly and elite.” That quote was a flashpoint for me when I heard this back in 2004. The line that hits me today is,

Microsoft responds to Google’s mounting challenge with Newsbotster, a social news network and participatory journalism platform. Newsbotster ranks and sorts news based on what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading and viewing, and it allows everyone to comment on what they see.

Although Facebook didn’t exist when this film was made, the Evolving Personalized Information Construct sounds a lot like Facebook Connect to me. Is this a good thing?

Current Events

Was the drop in UAL shares engineered?

A bit of lunchtime discussion about the whole United Airlines fake bankruptcy mess brought about an interesting theory. The reason the story from 2002 was picked up in the first place was because the headline was in the “Most Viewed” stories tab which is calculated automatically, most likely by looking at pageviews.

So the obvious question is, what is a story from 2002 doing in the Most Viewed box? Pageviews can be easily gamed using a bot to hit a page and bump up the count. Today, The Wall Street Jounal reports that according to the Sun-Sentinel, “a single visit during a low-traffic period early Sunday morning pushed the undated story onto the list of most popular business news of its South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper’s Web site.”

Details of what the Sun-Sentinel servers saw are in a press release put out by the Tribune company. Further reading of the release includes this tidbit:

Importantly, the URL for the old story did not change when the link appeared on the website’s business section. . . Our records also show that the Google search agent had previously crawled this same story numerous times, including as recently as last week.

The implication is that Google’s crawlers should have known better that this was an old URL and that it should not have made it into Google News. To Google’s defense, I’m sure they crawl many front pages of newspaper sites where the URL never changes so any such URL-dating would have to be done selectively.

The latest news is that the SEC is now involved to see if there was, “any improper behavior” and I’m sure they are going to follow the money and see if there was anyone that profited from short-selling of UAL. Either way, the finger pointing begins and it’s going to get ugly. UAL stock closed today at $11.09, still about a dollar short of when this whole thing started on Monday.