March 20, 2017 Last Updated 4:28 pm

Why what is happening in politics today is also a business issue for publishers

Some thoughts on how the publishing industry may want to look at the issue of Russian involvement in last year’s election, hacking, bots and DDoS attacks in business terms

This last summer and fall was a frustrating one of me. In the early summer this site launched a sister website in hopes of being able to separate the coverage of the media that concerned politics with the coverage of digital publishing which is the main focus of TNM.

That website went through a soft launch, which means TNM did not make too many reference to the new site, but I did reach out to Google which immediate included the new website inside Google News – a move that had instantly doubled TNM’s traffic, but this time did little to boost the new site’s traffic.

Photo: Malware Infection by Blogtrepreneur used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

The frustration with the new site was not so much that traffic lagged, but that it seemed only to attract the worst kind of audience – trolls, bots and the alt-right. It also began getting DDoS attacks which often took the site down for hours at a time.

For me, the issue of Russian interference in the fall election was, of course, a political question. But it also quickly became a business question. You are not in business if you have been knocked offline.

I reached out to a number of news organizations to inquire into what issues they were having with both cyber attacks and comment threads being taken over by malicious characters. I received very little feedback other than an acknowledgement that the rise in reader comments, often by nonreaders, trolls and bots, was driving record levels of web traffic.

Today’s House Intelligence Committee’s public hearing presented an opportunity to finally air a summary of what we know about the involvement of the Russian government and aligned hackers in the November election. Unfortunately, the gotcha issue of refuting the president’s tweets regarding the claim that President Obama order the wiretapping of Trump Tower will get much of the coverage.**

Nonetheless, the director of the FBI did make clear, for the first time in public, that there is an ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s election.

“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” FBI Director James B. Comey said on Monday.

But, Comey said, “because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining.”

What is also important to find out is how much of the cyber attacks many in the media deal with comes from an attempt to take the media offline, an issue that Poltifact seems to refer to today in a tweet about their site being taken down:

While cyber attacks are one thing, the attacks on the media by both the president and his supporters in Congress present yet another threat to the publishing business. Rather than asking about involvement by the Russians in the election, the Republicans on today’s panel were more concerned with the leaks to the media occurring, wanting to shutdown media coverage.

Sadly, Fox News appears to agree – the issue isn’t Russia and the president, but government leaks and the media.

Whatever your political persuasion, surely one can see that if the media is not allowed to function, even stay online and publish, it is detrimental to the media’s business. Oddly, few want to make the fundamental business argument that what has happened during the election, and what is happening after it, is bad for business.

Some media outlets, instead, make a point that the Trump president has actually been good for business, that DJT’s election has driven digital subscription sales, for instance. Maybe this is true, but less than 100 days into the administration, the continued attacks on the media by the president, and the willingness of one of the largest media owners in America to support them, are clearly a threat.

One side, unfortunately, seems to get this. With the successful lawsuit against Gawker behind it, a new one has emerged against another digital media property by the same players. It will be interesting to see how far this case might progress.

Right now the famous line from The Godfather seems to be appropriate now. “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

This may be what media owners will need to remember. This is a business issue with the industry, one that threatens our right to continue to publish, and to publish profitably.

** Everyone has known from the beginning that this was a bogus issue, started by a Trump tweet following an article on Breitbart. That the press continues to obsess over it is disappointing. Better to point out the inaccuracy of the claim and move on, there are bigger issues here folks.

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