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Editor's Note: Content and Advertising

Nov 19, 2004, 23:30 (92 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Since Nov. 1, Microsoft has chosen to run a non-rotaing ad on Linux Today with content that links to various white papers associated with their "Get the Facts" campaign. The presence of this ad has led to a lot of commentary here and on other Web sites about the appropriateness of a pro-Microsoft campaign on Linux Today.

There have also been some e-mails voicing concern about the ad, some echoing recent calls to boycott Linux Today and some asking questions about what we are doing. I have to say that nearly all of these messages were polite, well-reasoned, and thoughtful, for which I am grateful.

I have tried to answer each of these messages individually. Now I feel it would be a good idea to share what's going on with all the readers at once. In this way, a place can be provided to discuss this issue that stays on topic, and doesn't let other talkback discussions digress.

Linux Today, as many of you know, is owned and operated by Jupitermedia Corporation, which owns many technology news and forum sites on a wide variety of subjects. I am the editorial employee for Jupitermedia's Linux/Open Source Web sites: Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, JustLinux, AllLinuxDevices, Enterprise Linux Today, and LinuxPR. All of these sites, with the exception of LinuxPR, run advertisements. This is the revenue model Jupitermedia uses to keep these sites operating free of charge.

Because I am the sole full-time editor for Linux Today, many assume that I have full control over all content appearing on this site. That is not correct. I am responsible for editorial content. I have no say on advertising that appears on this site. I am responsible for editorial content: namely the articles to which Linux Today links, and the occasional original content produced for this site. This is also true for any editorial staffer and freelancer at Jupitermedia--on their sites or on this one if they are filling in for me.

Microsoft has purchased space for an advertisement, no different than other ads they have purchased here before or on other Linux-related sites. To me and my editorial colleagues, this ad is just a space on the screen, no different than ads that have been run here by IBM, Novell, Sun, Oracle, and others.

I make my decisions on what articles to run based on policies that were set up at Linux Today when the site first started in 1998. I don't know who's advertising next on Linux Today, nor do I want to.

This statement may seem odd and a type of denial: if I stick my head in the sand, it'll all go away. But in actuality, it is very straightforward and logical. If I don't know who's advertising and how much they're paying, then my decision to run one article over another is not the least bit swayed by ads.

For Jupitermedia and myself, this separation of editorial and advertising ensures that we are being objective in our decision-making. I personally believe in the publishing model in which editorially objective content is supported by commercial advertisements. And that when an advertiser makes a claim, it is no different from the ads that are run in other news services, even if some might find those ads offensive--such an ad for Cialis or Vioxx on NBC News.

Having worked on newspapers and with publishers for my entire professional career, I wholeheartedly agree with this separation. I practice it every day that I work on Linux Today. I can assure you that if I did not, I would certainly be fired for violating journalistic ethics.

I have regularly linked to news that is critical of Microsoft; that's the same as it has been and it will not change just because Microsoft is buying space that Oracle, IBM, Red Hat, and others have bought in the past.

Another point I want to address is this notion of LT representing Microsoft: I do not believe that an ad's presence is an automatic endorsement of the advertiser by the publication. Linux Magazine has run full-page print ads for the Get the Facts campaign. If my local newspaper carries an ad for network newscast, they certainly aren't endorsing TV news over press journalism. They're just carrying the ad. [Note: This paragraph has been updated to remove the assertion that Linux Journal has run Microsoft ads. This information was not correct, and I apologize for the error. -BKP]

One reader likened this whole thing to something akin to placing a Red Sox ad in the middle of Yankee Stadium. As a community advocate, this reader argued, Linux Today should take a stand against Microsoft and refuse their advertising.

I agree with him that a Red Sox ad in Yankee Stadium would be a bad idea, because the Yankees are in the business of playing ball and promoting themselves. It's not their job to directly advertise for other teams.

Linux Today, however, is not in the business of promoting Linux. We cover Linux business, development, and community as fairly and even-handedly as we can. That has been my professional mandate since I began working on Linux Today full-time nearly three years ago and it will continue to be so.

Because Linux is an excellent technology, it is easy to find and link to positive stories about Linux and Open Source. When I write my opinion columns, I am critical of anything that harms Linux and the free and open source software movements--even if that anything turns out to be someone or something in the movement itself. That is my personal stance, which fits very well with my professional responsibilities.

Because Jupitermedia is a staunch advocate of free speech, and I with them, then we have to provide the right for Microsoft to advertise where they choose. Just as we would allow Red Hat or Novell the right to advertise on one of our Windows-centric sites. To do any less would devalue our ethics... even if we don't always agree with the messages our advertisers create.