Something's wrong when you start seeing overwhelming MSN ads on a nytimes.com article comparing the new versions of MSN and AOL:
The Times article (login name: cyberpunk21; password: cyberpunk21) is a reviewer's comparison of the two products. But, with MSN advertisements surrounding the content, the page indirectly suggests the article is biased toward MSN -- diminishing The New York Times' journalistic credibility.
Simply put, it encourages the perception of conflict of interest. And that's a big no-no.
In fairness, I'll point out that reloading the page brings up different ads that have little to do with MSN or AOL. But that doesn't excuse the fact that some users will see the MSN advertisements, make the connection and lower their opinion of the publication.
Some might argue it's good advertising strategy to place the MSN ad on an MSN-related article; after all, people interested in this article will likely be interested in the ad, leading to more click-throughs. Yes, that's true, but a bunch of extra click-throughs does not make this any less unethical. Ethics of journalism come first; advertising needs come second.
The lesson here? Newspaper content-management systems ought to include the ability to turn off certain ads for certain articles. In this case, an nytimes.com producer should have been able to turn off the MSN ad for this article.
UPDATE, 10:11 PM: I've posted a follow-up to this entry.