Terry Heaton and Jeff Jarvis have commented recently on the conflicts of interest implicated by the adulatory coverage of the iPad in the New York Times and other media companies. They point first to the expectation that widespread adoption of the iPad will foster consumer adoption of a platform where media giants can show their content for a fee — thus enabling them to move more easily to a paywall revenue model.
Dan Gillmor shares these concerns, but notes an even more concrete conflict of interest — Apple’s advertising of the iPad consistently features a screenshot of the New York Times app, including of course the Times’ logo. Although Apple no doubt hopes to show that its device can be used to read the Times, surely attractive content to many of its target consumers, the image is also terrific advertising for the New York Times. Gillmor indicates that he has no doubt that Times’ reviewers truly believe the contents of their swooning coverage of the iPad, but argues that the benefit that the Times is receiving is a conflict of interest that ought to be overtly acknowledged and discussed by Times management. Yet, he reports, nobody from the Times has been willing to respond to his questions about the issue, such as whether the Times has received any compensation for the display of its logo on the iPad as shown in the ads. Gillmor raised these concerns a week ago, and the Times has yet to address publicly the possible conflict.
One may well wonder whether Apple or the Times has violated the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. The placement of the Times’ logo in Apple’s ads is surely a thing of great value, and readers of the Times’ reviews might well want to take the provision of free advertising to the Times into account in deciding whether to give full credence to the objectivity of the Times’ news reports and reviews of the product. The benefit of having such advertising could well be a “material connection” that has to be disclosed both by Apple and by the Times under section 255.5 of the FTC Guides, as illustrated by Example 7.
Surely, what’s good for bloggers who praise products ought to be good for the New York Times and professional journalists.