JD Lasica has some fine points in response to my comments today regarding nytimes.com ad placement. In short, JD argues that the problem I point out isn't a particularly important problem and that's why technical solutions haven't yet been adopted:
Is there anyone out there short of a dimwit or conspiracy theorist who thinks the New York Times would risk its reputation by slanting a review just because it accepts some pocket-change advertising income from an MSN ad that occasionally pops up on a news page?
I know, and I acknowledge many others know, that New York Times coverage probably will not be influenced by advertising. The intention of my blog entry (which I should have made more clear) was not to chastize nytimes.com, but to point out the need for a technological means of avoiding this problem -- which, I maintain, is important. I see two ways this can be accomplished:
- Enable content producers to "turn off" a certain ad on a story-by-story basis. This solution is far from perfect, because it requires that news producers have a working knowledge of their site's current ads. Rather, it's a contingency plan -- an "oh, shoot, that ad really shouldn't go with that story" kind of plan.
- Implement an effective keyword metatagging system that lets computers make "intelligent" decisions on the fly. (That sounds technical, doesn't it?) In other words, assign keywords to advertisements and news stories. Then configure the site's CMS to check the keywords against one another when an article is published. (Or, if pages and ads are drawn dynamically, the comparison likewise would be made dynamically.) In theory, the CMS would flag possible problematic matchups.
Venturing from the ethics world into the similarly important world of good taste, here's a more realistic situation in which this'd be useful -- a story about a plane crash juxtaposed with an advertisement for an airline. I've seen this before. Do you think it's acceptable to have a Delta Airlines ad right above a plane-crash article? It looks bad for the news publication, and it looks bad for Delta. That's precisely where this type of software would come in.