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Profiting from the Virginia Shooting

Posted by: Burth Helm on April 17, 2007

We’re in the news business. Naturally when there’s a big story, more people read our stories and we make more money. So why am I so disturbed by this? Ken Wheaton at AdAge points out that both the New York Times and Inside Edition have purchased sponsored links on the search term “Virginia Shooting” with Google. In my own searching I found that Time Magazine and The Washington Post have bought ads too, on both Google and Yahoo. While that means those press outlets are looking to buy some reader traffic on the story (tacky enough on its own as Wheaton points out) it also means that Google and Yahoo are choosing to make money by advertising massacre news. It’s a fire hose of traffic, I’d imagine, so it’s no small potatoes.

Is this ok? Screen grabs after the jump.

UPDATE: I reached out to Google, Yahoo, and the media companies I mentioned above. Both Google and Yahoo sent me statements saying that on sensitive topics like this, they actually prohibit most ads. They do, however, sell ads purchased by news outlets or non-profits (the Brady Campaign, for example, also bought links on these keywords). A Time spokesperson wrote me back to say that frequently buys keywords on many topics including breaking news, “which is what users primarily want from our site.” The Washington Post declined to comment, and the other two didn’t respond.

blog virginiatech6.jpg

2. (right-hand side links for a search on "Virginia Shooting")
blog VirginiaTech.jpg

blog virginiatech7.jpg

Reader Comments


April 18, 2007 12:14 PM

I would just like to point out that the writer
of this article has twisted logic in a way that
might seem subtle and harmless.

"...Google and Yahoo are choosing to make money..."

no, this is not true. Google and Yahoo do not choose
to sell "Virginia Shooting" ads. Their systems allow
anyone to purchase ads on anything (minus tobacco,guns,
sex, etc).

To give Google and Yahoo any reprimand here, it would
have to be in the form of "Google and Yahoo did NOT
choose to PREVENT these ads from being published"

Lisa O'Neill

April 18, 2007 3:24 PM

Sure, there are always 2 sides to any story & perhaps more, but my first reaction, second & third is "how tasteless!" Does business really just have to be about business? Business is PEOPLE to state the obvious - without them, there would be no profits.
It makes me sad - no one needs help in finding news on this story. I dare say, you don't even need a computer or related tool - old fashioned TV and newspapers are in overdrive.
Poor taste, period.

Christian Rubio

April 23, 2007 1:02 AM

I find it pretty sick that even after getting inquiries, the Engines have not acted quickly - from their press offices to their operational divisions - to deal with this. An organization can move quickly when it needs to. Poor form.

Burt Helm

April 27, 2007 5:22 PM

Sounds like six of one, half-dozen of another to me, Steve. One thing I've always wondered about Google et al: Why continually use the "why blame us, we just built it," excuse? It sounds like their argument in the YouTube/Viacom case, where they say that the user-controlled system they created makes it impossible for them to enforce copyrighted materials (their argument is more nuanced than that, but that is a major talking point they employ). Is that supposed to hold up in court, or anywhere else, for that matter?

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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