September 11, 2017 Last Updated 1:53 pm

Media odds and ends: Google to appeal EC’s massive €2.42B fine; A ‘turnaround’ at the Chronicle?

Morning Brief: Yahoo News says FBI is investigating Russian government-owned Sputnik for possibly violating Foreign Agents Registration Act by not registering as agent of a foreign nation, while WSJ loses journalists as editor seeks to toe the Trump line

The week has started off slowly (for a change) as we wait for tomorrow’s iPhone event (for those still interested in such things), as well as word from several magazine publishers about the ultimate fate of their sales (Rodale and Time Inc., for instance).

Meanwhile, there is other media news to get caught up on:

Google: The search giant has decided to appeal its €2.42 billion fine for the antitrust violations, as many expected they would (the record-breaking fine was just too big to let it go without a challenge.

At issue is Google Shopping, and whether Google “has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service”.

Google“Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives,” European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said back in June. “That’s a good thing. But Google’s strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.”

“I think the EU’s second ruling – “Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results” – is actually much more important if it is true,” said Zhewei Zhang, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Warwick Business School.

“The EU says the result is based on analysis of 1.7 billion real-world search queries. This means Google manipulated the search results to lower its competitors’ rank, which can be the hard evidence to support the EU’s fine on Google abusing its dominance. Unless Google can prove this is wrong, I don’t think Google can easily get out of the fine.”

Media Coverage:

TechCrunch: Google files to appeal $2.73BN EU antitrust fine
The Guardian: Google appeals against EU’s €2.4bn fine over search engine results
Search Engine Land: Top European court’s ruling might embolden US tech companies to challenge regulators

Sputnik and The Wall Street Journal:

The FBI has, according to Yahoo News, started an investigation into the Russian-government-funded news agency Sputnik, and whether it violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not registering as an agent of a foreign government.

It is an interesting investigation, and Yahoo News journalists Hunter Walker and Michael Isikoff say that the “the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.”

Most US concede that RT and Sputnik are propaganda outlets, but try not to make a big deal out of it (though one wonders why RT is found so easily on cable systems). The fact is that in the US and UK one find major newspapers and cable news channels closely aligned with political parties. Now we even have a government official, the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, getting paid by Breitbart News.

Media Coverage:

Yahoo News: Sputnik, the Russian news agency, is under investigation by the FBI
Sputnik (France): Un ex-employé de Sputnik interrogé par le FBI (Former Sputnik employee questioned by FBI)
The Guardian: The Wall Street Journal’s Trump problem

One of the problems with the media industry is just how bad our trade journals are. The newspaper industry essentially lost its journal more than seven years ago with Nielsen decided to shutter it (technically its still alive, though it is basically an aggregator now); and the magazine industry, which used to have several magazines covering the industry is down to one that survives by hosting endless events and awards luncheons.

What saves things a bit is that there are several digital news outlets that cover the topic of journalism, such as the Columbia Journalism Review.

That’s why the piece today on the San Francisco Chronicle really got my attention.

If the story were a movie review, you’d call it a rave — a totally positive piece about a “turnaround” at the Chronicle. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of the piece, and at the same time I don’t want to be too cynical and dismiss it — be the judge (see link below).

For one thing, the turn something around means it was going in the right direction at some point in the past, and that is a hard thing to claim about the Chronicle. Even several decades ago, when owned by the de Young family, it was often criticized for being a journalistic lightweight in a city known for its literacy (there is that famous in-joke in All the President’s Men from Ben Bradley, if you recall).

Despite dominating San Francisco, it was forced into a JOA in 1965, and it always struggled to win more readership in the growing suburban markets. In the East Bay, Dean Lesher’s small dailies hit hard; in San Jose, Knight-Ridder built a giant in the Mercury News; Floyd Sparks built up a tough chain in the Alamedia Newspaper Group.

Hearst, for many years, owned the smaller daily, the San Francisco Examiner, and many thought they would shutter the newspaper as they did in Los Angeles. But the de Young family sold the Chronicle Publishing Company in 2000 to Hearst, and Hearst dumped the Examiner, which is why we are even still talking about Hearst’s presence in the Bay Area.

Are they “turning” around the Chronicle? Tough to say, Hearst is a private company and so they don’t report earnings. Circulation of the Chronicle a decade ago stood at over 400,000 on Sunday and over 350,000 on weekdays — today it is 241,001 on Sunday, 176,703 weekdays.

Editorially, the paper’s reputation has never been all that great.

“I think it was overstated how shitty we were, but it’s true, the Chronicle’s reputation wasn’t all that great,” Carl Hall, a former Chronicle reporter, now executive director of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, told freelancer Tony Biasotti who wrote the piece for CJR.

“I think there has been a real turnaround for the Chronicle,” said Dawn Garcia, another former Chronicle reporter. “San Francisco is a fabulous city to cover, but the paper feels very different as I read it now than back in the ’80s.”

I hope that is true, I used to compete with the Chronicle while with Lesher, and would have worked at the paper’s JOA unit had the person interviewing me not believed that I would eventually take their job should he hire me (that was the weirdest reason I heard for not getting a job). Through all my Northern California years I read and subscribed to the Chronicle, and even picked up the Examiner every once in a while when Will Hearst ran it (he helped created some of the best TV ads ever produced for a daily newspaper).

Media Coverage:

Columbia Journalism Review: Turnaround at San Francisco Chronicle shows way for legacy newspapers

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