Hypocrisy Anyone? NYT Touts Use of Data-mining on Own Readers

Despite its huffy, self-righteous editorial page, the New York Times never has been anywhere close to a paragon of moral consistency. The latest example of the Grey Lady's hypocrisy is on the subject of data-mining, a subject which the editorial side of the paper repeatedly condemned last year. Data-mining is basically a fancy way of compiling user data in an advanced manner. According to the Times, data-mining is wrong when it is done to help fight terrorism. When it's done to fatten the wallets of fatcat liberal newspaper execs then it's ok.

The left-wing Village Voice caught the Times:

Barely a year after their reporters won a Pulitzer prize for exposing data mining of ordinary citizens by a government spy agency, New York Times officials had some exciting news for stockholders last week: The Times company plans to do its own data mining of ordinary citizens, in the name of online profits.

The news didn't make everyone all googly-eyed. In fact, some people at the paper's annual stockholders meeting in the New Amsterdam Theatre exchanged confused looks when Janet Robinson, the company's president and CEO, uttered the phrase "data mining." Wasn't that the nefarious, 21st-century sort of snooping that the National Security Agency was doing without warrants on American citizens? Wasn't that the whole subject of the prizewinning work in December 2005 by Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen?

And hadn't the company's chairman and publisher, Pinch Sulzberger, already trotted out Pulitzers earlier in the program?

Yes, yes, and yes. But Robinson was talking about money this time. Data mining, she told the crowd, would be used "to determine hidden patterns of uses to our website." ...

Do readers really want data-mining behavior from their newspapers—not just the Times but every other big media outlet? Do they want newspaper databases to store reading histories, minute by minute, until one day the government shows up to examine ordinary citizens' shopping and viewing and chatting habits in detail? If you think it can't happen, ask the librarians who've been told to hand over readers' checkout records under the Patriot Act.

Truth be told, there is nothing inherently unconstitutional about data-mining. It's been going on since Clinton presidency at least within a communications context.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013