Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Puff Piece About Foursquare From The NYT -- And Still, No Mention of The Paper's Business Partnership.

Thus the company, its separate business units and members of its newsrooms and editorial pages share an interest in avoiding conflicts of interest or any appearance of conflict.

-- NYT Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism

This morning, NYT published its third puff piece in five months on Foursquare, the social-networking phenomenon -- singing its praises yet again, while again forgetting to mention that the paper has been doing business with the company.

In February, the NYT's Jenna Wortham -- who wrote two of the NYT's three feature-length love sonnets directed at Foursquare -- buried the news of her paper's business partnership with Foursquare in Bits Blog entry.

Wortham reported on the blog on Febuary 9 (in an "update" to the entry, posted at 12:12 a.m.) that the Foursquare was "forging partnerships" with various media companies, including the NYT. The partnership debuted at the Winter Olympics, with Foursquare entertainment suggestions culled from the NYT's coverage -- with frequent Foursquare users earning NYT Olympics "badges."

“Going forward,” Stacy Green, public relations manager for The New York Times Company, told Wortham, ”we are looking into other ways we can work with Foursquare in New York and other markets to integrate our strong travel and entertainment content.”

Today's Foursquare homily comes yet again from Wortham, who only last October wrote a profile of the startup for the NYT's business section that made essentially the identical point to today's feature:

From today's piece, on the front page of the business section:

But now there is a different approach, one that is being popularized by Foursquare.

After firing up the Foursquare application on their phones, users see a list of nearby bars, restaurants and other places, select their location and “check in,” sending an alert to friends using the service.

This model, which may be more attractive than tracking because it gives people more choice in revealing their locations, is gathering speed in the Internet industry.

From Wortham's October 18 front-page Business Day feature:

For them, a fast-growing social networking service called Foursquare is becoming the tool of choice. A combination of friend-finder, city guide and competitive bar game, Foursquare lets users “check in” with a cellphone at a bar, restaurant or art gallery. That alerts their friends to their current location so they can drop by and say hello.

And only three weeks ago -- ten days after the NYT-Foursquare deal was announced -- metro columnist Susan Dominus delivered a paean to the service in her column, declaring:

In your own neighborhood, it’s a simple utility; farther than home, it seems to crack doors open that might otherwise be passed by, giving personality and accessibility to the surrounding blocks. To walk through the city eyeing your Foursquare tips is to realize just how little of it you ordinarily see.

Although it’s a tool of the young and hip, Foursquare also provides old-fashioned marketing opportunities for the businesses that tap into it. Show up more often than anyone at your favorite bar, checking into Foursquare each time, and suddenly you’re crowned “mayor,” maybe you’ll get a discount.

To Dominus's credit, at least her column mentioned parenthetically that the NYT "is among the companies that are working with Foursquare."

Today's NYT story should have done the same. The failure to disclose demonstrates yet another example of the blurred line between the NYT's business and editorial priorities, and a violation of the ethics rules that govern the paper's coverage -- whenever it's convenient, that is.


Anonymous said...

wow - you're really stretching on this one.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago this sort of thing would have never happened in the NYT. Now it happens so often that people think it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to decide just how annoyed I should be. While I recognize that it makes sense for you to highlight this, I'm not sure it's a big deal.

After all, almost every NY Times writer pays taxes to NY State and the US government, but they don't include this disclaimer in every piece about taxes or government services. It would be silly.

At some point it becomes something that's the responsibility of the reader. I'm not saying this is the case here, but at some point the information enters the pit of assumed wisdom.

As it stands, Foursquare is just the beginning. The NY Times is widely assumed to be working tightly with Apple to deliver the news through the new iPad. Yet the reporters keep typing up mash notes to the iPhone and the iPad. If the iPad is really going to be the future distribution mechanism for the paper, then the reporters might want to start acknowledging this relationship.

(And really, does the NY Times realize what's waiting for them in Apple's walled garden? The Supreme Court could defend the NY Times when it published the Pentagon Papers, but Apple will have the unilateral power to delete news. They wield it with impunity now against apps they don't like. Sheesh.)

Anonymous said...

Re: "almost every NY Times writer pays taxes to NY State and the US government, but they don't include this disclaimer in every piece about taxes or government services."

That is a lamentable confusion between a profit-making business and a governmental obligation.

Anonymous said...

I think this is ridiculous. The NYTimes business side partners with companies all the time — it doesn't mean that the newsroom is in those meetings or making those decisions. So because there's a little DIGG icon on every page should the NYT devote 50 words in each article able the company to say there's a "partnership" there? And because NYT writers have "Fan Pages" on Facebook and Google Reader, should they preface each article with that too?

Utter nonsense.

Anonymous said...

I diagree with Anonymous (10:23). The paper has a vested financial interest in Foursquare's success, so when it writes about it, it's promoting that interest, therefore it should disclose that interest.

Anonymous said...

One clarifying solution would be to add a Public Relations section to the paper, where PR lingo would be welcomed, and journalism unnecessary, and, the paper can bleed advertising dollars in exchange for i-gifts for its parasites.

Anonymous said...

As far as exchanging ad dollars for "gifts for parasites," several sections of the paper have been doing that for some time.

Anonymous said...

RE:anonymous @ 11:12 NYT already has similar sections - the "lifestyle" stuff that tastes of PR people's pitches.

profiterole said...

re:7:07 AM

You should be so annoyed that you deploy your freeloader app to take you to wherever you can gather the hanging crowd to listen to your misery while you drink your sassy self into oblivion, and stumbling forth on your way out you would text in the next day's blurb by deadline.

Anonymous said...

Where is your obligatory statement disclosing your connections to Disney, Hilary Duff, Columbia University, the Village Voice,, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc, etc?

timbo60 said...

No mention also of the fact that the innovation is probably not patentable, can thus be copied at any time, and that foursquare's audience is tiny. This is the equivalent of BusinessWeek claiming Digg was the most popular Web news site in 2006 -- just goofy, and by no stretch a prelude to the company actually succeeding.