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When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism

Over the past generation, journalism has been slowly swallowed. The ascendant media companies of our era don’t think of themselves as heirs to a great ink-stained tradition. Some like to compare themselves to technology firms. This redefinition isn’t just a bit of fashionable branding. As Silicon Valley has infiltrated the profession, journalism has come to unhealthily depend on the big tech companies, which now supply journalism with an enormous percentage of its audience—and, therefore, a big chunk of its revenue.

Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter.

Digital News Fact Sheet

In the US, roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) ever get news online (either via mobile or desktop), and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, “born on the web” news outlets. Digital advertising revenue across all digital entities (beyond just news) continues to grow, with technology companies playing a large role in the flow of both news and revenue.

Digital-native news outlets are also adopting other outreach and engagement methods. Fully 97% of these outlets offer newsletters, and 92% have an official presence on Apple News. Three-quarters, meanwhile, release podcasts and 61% allow comments on their articles. These outlets are also highly likely to use social media as part of their outreach. Nearly all have official pages or accounts on Facebook (100%), Twitter (100%), YouTube (97%) and Instagram (92%). Far fewer (25%) have an official channel or account on Snapchat.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy to FCC: Don't Weaken Kids Rules

Advocates called Aug 4 on the Federal Communications Commission to reject an effort by major media companies to “eliminate or weaken important rules for children’s television.” The NAB, Internet and Television Association (NCTA), CBS, Disney, Fox, Univision and others have asked the FCC to significantly reduce advertising limits on children’s programming. Industry commenters also urged the FCC to reconsider rules that require broadcasters to provide quality educational programming as part of their obligation to serve the public interest.

In comments filed Aug 4, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy called on the FCC to reject such proposals to repeal or modify the current rules. “The Trump Administration and the FCC should stand up for the rights of children and parents and reject this crass campaign by the broadcast lobby,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The broadcast industry receives billions of dollars in benefits from its free use of public resources, including invaluable rights to the airwaves. It is unconscionable that TV stations and networks want to kill off one of their few remaining obligations to the public.”

Verizon’s new rewards program lets it track your browsing history

Verizon has a new rewards program out, called Verizon Up, which awards users a credit for every $300 they spend on their Verizon bill that can be redeemed toward various rewards. Customers will be able to get rewards such as “Device Dollars toward your next device purchase, discounts on an accessory, or partner rewards,” along with other surprise offerings and first-come, first-serve ticket opportunities, which all seems like a nice occasional thing to get for regularly paying your cellphone bill.

But, the new program comes with a pretty big catch: you have to enroll in Verizon Selects, a program that allows the company to track a huge chunk of your personal data. That includes web browsing, app usage, device location, service usage, demographic info, postal or email address, and your interests. Furthermore, that data gets shared with Verizon’s newly formed Oath combination (aka AOL and Yahoo), plus with “vendors and partners” who work with Verizon. Which is kind of a long list of people who have access to what feels like a fairly significant amount of your data.

What Steve Bannon Wants to Do to Google

Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities, according to an anonymously sourced report in The Intercept. This means they would get treated less like a book publisher and more like a telephone company. The government would shorten their leash, treating them as privately owned firms that provide an important public service.

The plan is a prototypical alleged Bannonism: iconoclastic, anti-establishment, and unlikely to result in meaningful policy change....Americans will have to examine the most fraught tensions in our mixed system, as we weigh the balance of local power and national power, the deliberate benefits of central planning with the mindless wisdom of the free market, and the many conflicting meanings of freedom.

For The New York Times, Trump is a sparring partner with benefits

A version of the the New York Times’s Trump bump has materialized across the media landscape, as readers have been galvanized by a man who may well be the most polarizing president in American history. But the boon carries significant risks, especially for the Times. And it highlights some business-model vulnerabilities for a newspaper that is struggling mightily to wade through a brutal media climate: Not only is the company becoming increasingly dependent on Trump for its core subscription revenue, but its print readers are subsidizing the rest of the operation through repeated, and often opaque, price increases—a practice that at some point will have to ease.

Verizon wants to borrow T-Mobile and Vodafone's consumer data to take on Facebook and Google

Verizon Communications wants to challenge Google and Facebook. So it's reaching out to some of its biggest rivals in the wireless industry for help. Now that the telecommunications company has completed its acquisition of Yahoo and rolled out Oath, a division which includes a wide collection of digital advertising assets, it is looking to ramp up its ability to challenge Google and Facebook in the sector.

The wireless giant is exploring building a data partnership with other top wireless players, including T-Mobile, Sprint, Vodafone and Telefónica, apparently. Specifically, Verizon wants to pool together more wireless consumer data that can be used for ad targeting. A big reason Google and Facebook are so dominant in digital advertising – besides the fact that their platforms reach huge audiences –is that they have powerful, accurate data sets on millions of consumers that can be used by advertisers to target people with more relevant ads.

In the digital age, The New York Times treads an increasingly slippery path between news and advertising

The April 2 edition of the Sunday New York Times, where the paper features its best journalism, included a six-page special section, “Women Today,” pegged to a summit in Manhattan a few days later. What wasn’t in any of the stories was the fact that the Times itself owned a minority stake in the conference.

Although the paper’s own standards call for transparency in this area, the section didn’t disclose the paper’s financial interest. These sections, often paired with Times-backed live events, are a growing part of the business model of what has been the newspaper of record, and just one example of the extent to which the newsroom and the company’s marketing department now work together in an effort to generate new sources of revenue. The editor of these sections meets once a week with the advertising department to discuss possible projects, while the advertising studio of the Times acts as a matchmaker between reporters and sponsors. In one sense, such initiatives might be seen as the new normal, as newspapers like the Times scramble for creative approaches in an industry whose finances are growing creakier by the day. But the Times is a unique beast, in journalism and within its own midtown Manhattan tower, and a bevy of new initiatives being rolled out to buoy the company’s bottom line worry journalists at a paper that has long maintained a firm separation between its news and business operations. Continuing job cuts in the newsroom, even as the business side of the paper continues to grow, have made those tensions even more acute.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) calls for FCC crackdown on ringless robocalls

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on the Federal Communications Commission to block telemarketers from leaving ringless voicemails, a new technology for sales calls. "With billions of robocalls made to cellphones each year, the feds should be doing more to rein in annoying telemarketers, not throw gas on the problem and add fuel to cellphone spam," said Sen Schumer.

Robocalls, or automated calls to consumers soliciting their information or business, have increased in recent years. Lawmakers and the federal government have taken note and ramped up efforts to curb them. In 2016, Schumer railed against the practice, noting that in two New York ZIP codes alone consumers had received 50 million robocalls in a single month. Ringless voicemails, unlike traditional calls, go straight to a recipient's voice mailbox. “Even though these voicemails may be quieter than what we traditionally think of as cellphone spam, they are no less intrusive or annoying to consumers,” Schumer wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Sunday. “Ringless voicemail would be yet another way for consumers to feel that their phones are not their own. Unsolicited, spam robocall voicemails could flood mailboxes, clogging out legitimate messages.”

Ringless voicemail spam won’t be exempt from anti-robocall rules

A petition to exempt ringless voicemails from anti-robocall rules has been withdrawn after heavy opposition. In March, a marketing company called All About the Message petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from applying to ringless voicemails. But the company withdrew its petition without explanation in a letter to the FCC last week, even though the commission hadn't yet ruled on the matter. As the name suggests, a ringless voicemail is the delivery of a voice message to a voicemail box without ringing the recipient's phone.

The now-withdrawn petition asked the FCC to declare that this type of message does not count as a "call" under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits non-emergency calls made with auto-dialers, artificial voices, or prerecorded voices without the "prior express consent of the called party."