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Features Posted June 23, 1998
Tracing the Ownership of Online News

When it comes to business and technology news, you can throw out all notions of the Internet being home to ill-trained gossips and computer nerds typing silly manifestos.
 
If you want to read about the latest merger between a media giant and an Internet upstart, for example, there are easily 10 different quality Net-native sites you can hit up.
 
A partial list would include: ZDNet.com/zdnn, News.com, The Industry Standard, CMPnet.com, TheStreet.com, Wired News, Red Herring and Internet.com.
 
There are even a handful of newsletters, such as Newsbroker, the Iconocast and Media Grok, which sponge up the best of the aforementioned sites.
 
Even though these publications are generally objective, their blurry business profiles make it difficult to determine whether they have a vested interest in any given subject.
 
Complicating the matter further is that these news outlets compete for the same small number of contracts with search engines, and flirt with the same small number of traditional media powerhouses. Certain companies, like Japan's Softbank, own chunks of several similar news sites (ZDNet, Red Herring, TheStreet.com).
 
The sites themselves then contribute to the mess by posting articles from their competitors.
 
It's a tangle, and perhaps because it is a lucrative one, no one seems to be in any hurry to untie the knots (though TheStreet.com has an admirable disclosure page & policy, and IDG has a fine set of guidelines to separate editorial from advertising).
 
So, to shed a little light on the subject, OJR presents a list of the aforementioned sites' business interests, as compiled from company documents, SEC filings, press reports, interviews, and the sites themselves.
 

 


 
Site: ZDNet.com (http://www.zdnet.com/) Principal news site: ZDNet.com/zdnn
Description of news site:
Covers Internet, computing and technology business news. Collates from and links to ZDNet's network of publications, offers world headlines from MSNBC, and has a "tech news elsewhere" section.
Executive Producer: Patrick Houston Owner: Ziff-Davis Inc. Publicly traded, majority shareholder is Softbank, with more than 71%.
What does Ziff-Davis do?
Publishes technology magazines and Web sites with an emphasis on product reviews; organizes trade shows and conferences; conducts market research; and provides education. Claims to be the "world's preeminent integrated media and marketing company focused on computing and Internet-related technology." ZD is the largest tech magazine publisher by ad revenue, with 28 principal titles and 50 licensee publications, and it produces the annual Comdex trade show.
Ziff-Davis' other publications and investments:
PC Magazine, PC Computing, Macworld, Computer Shopper, ComputerLife, Family PC, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Yahoo Internet Life, PC Week and dozens more. See http://www.ziffdavis.com/medianetwork/zdmn_circfind.htm.
Business alliances:
Newsstand distribution through Warner Publishers Services, licensing agreement with Yahoo Inc. to print Yahoo! Internet Life. Provides computer/technology content for Yahoo!, Excite, MSNBC and Pointcast, and has signed default bookmark deals for Web browsers made by Compaq Computer Corp. and Gateway 2000.
Competitors:
Print publishing: IDG, CMP Media, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Imagine Publishing.
Internet publishing: CNET, CMPnet, IDGnet, Mecklermedia Corporation.
Trade Shows: Miller Freeman, Mecklermedia Corporation, IDG.
Market Research: Dataquest and IntelliQuest, Information Resource Group, Dun & Bradstreet, IDG.
What do Ziff-Davis' investors own?
Softbank is a gigantic Japanese software company and Internet investor, run by Masayoshi Son, known as "the Japanese Bill Gates."
Holds strategic stakes outright or through subsidiaries in more than 70 firms, including Internet/media companies Yahoo, Red Herring, TheStreet.com, E*Trade Group, GeoCities, I/Pro, PointCast, Third Age Media, Zip2, Electric Classifieds, and more.
Softbank has also forged partnerships with Microsoft, the Fox Group, and dozens of other major media companies.
See http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/aboutpcw/disclose.html.
ZDNet's conflict disclosures:
ZDNet discloses its relationship with Softbank in most articles about Softbank's investments, and does not disclose either competitors or business partners.
Mea culpa:
"The Company's influence over computer purchasing carries with it the responsibility to maintain the highest standards of fairness and objectivity in its product reviews. To ensure this impartiality, Ziff-Davis has instituted policies governing separation of editorial functions from advertising sales functions and restricting trading in securities of technology-related companies by its journalists."
       -- SEC Filing
1997 revenue, profit (Ziff-Davis): $1.154 billion, $71.2 million net loss. Number of employees: 3,698, more than 450 editorial.

 


 
Site: CNET.com (http://www.cnet.com/) Principal news site: news.com
Description of news site:
Covers Internet, computing and technology business news. Links to the CNET family of sites; posts outside articles in "News From Around the Web."
Editor: Jai Singh Owner: CNET. Publicly traded. Minority investors include Vulcan Ventures (21%), Intel (6%), Amerindo Investment Advisors (4.8%) and NBC (4.99%).
What does CNET do?
Publishes nine IT/Internet-related sites; produces four TV programs; and owns the search engine, Snap! Online. Claims that "online and on television, CNET is the leading authority on computers, the Internet and digital technologies."
CNET's other publications and investments:
Snap (81%), Vignette (24.4%) and CNET Direct (19%). Sites include CNET Radio (radio.com), computers.com, builder.com, gamecenter.com, download.com, shareware.com, search.com and cnet.tv.com.
Business alliances:
Will provide content for Netscape's Computing & Internet channel on NetCenter.
Snap has exclusive retail agreements with Borders.com and Cyberian Outpost, plus partnerships with Compaq (uses Snap as customized home page for Presario Home PCs), Sprint Internet Access (default home page), Toshiba America Information Systems (default home page for Satellite laptops), and GTE (joint development of Internet gateway for GTE customers).
Working with Bloomberg to jointly develop financial resources & stock indices on the Net.
Competitors:
Internet publishers: Ziff-Davis, IDG, CMP Media, Mecklermedia Corporation.
Television companies: CNN, the Discovery Channel, Jones Computer Network, Mind Extension University, MSNBC.
Search engines: America Online, Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, Infoseek, Netscape, Microsoft.
What do CNET's investors own?
NBC, which now owns 19% of Snap (with an option to buy a majority stake), also owns NBC.com, CNBC, half of MSNBC (with Microsoft), videoseeker.com, part of Intercast (with Intel), part of Launch Media (with Intel), part of Arts & Entertainment (with Disney and Hearst), The History Channel, Much Music, Rainbow Media Holdings (with Cablevision), part of Court TV, Bravo, and much more.
See www.cjr.org/owners/html/ge.html.
 
Vulcan Ventures, the holding company for technology tycoon Paul Allen, has stakes in dozens of companies, including Software.net, Cybersource, Digital Evolution, Dreamworks SKG and more.
See http://www.paulallen.com/business/investments/.
 
Intel has made an estimated $750 million in investments in more than 200 technology companies, roughly one-third of which are involved in media and entertainment. A partial list includes: Ticketmaster, CBS Sportsline, Creative Artists Agency, Liquid Audio, Avid, Launch Media, Intertainer, Broadcast.com and ArtistDirect.
 
Amerindo Investment Advisors owns stakes in about 20 technology companies. Past investments include Oracle, Sun, Adobe, Aldus, Symantec, Cisco and Netscape
News.com's conflict disclosures:
Discloses relationships with investors in stories about investors' other holdings; sometimes discloses about competitors; does not disclose business partners.
Mea culpa:
"CNET's editorial services are committed to a strict policy of editorial neutrality. To help create this necessary separation of church and state, CNET physically segregates editorial personnel from any department privy to unannounced information about CNET's business partners. In addition, CNET strives to disclose these relationships whenever relevant, specifically in any story or column in which a CNET partner or investor is a primary subject. Ordinary advertising relationships do not require disclosure. CNET will disclose relationships and partners it deems extraordinary."
www.cnet.com/Company/ss03f.html.
1997 revenue, profit (CNET): $33.6 million, $24.7 million net loss. Number of employees: 581

 


 
Site: IDG.net (http://www.idg.net/) Key news site: The Industry Standard
Description of sites:
The Industry Standard is a daily version of the weekly print magazine that covers the Internet economy, including brief company & personality profiles. IDG.net is culled from the parent company's myriad technology publications.
Editors: Jonathan Weber, Sherry McInroy Owner: International Data Group (IDG). Privately held.
What does IDG do?
Publishes IT-related books, magazines, newsletters and Web sites; organizes conferences; conducts market research; and provides education.
Claims to be "the world's leading provider of computer information." Publishes 285 magazines and newspapers in 75 countries, 500 books in 38 languages (including the popular "For Dummies" series), and more than 210 Web sites in 52 countries.
IDG's other publications and investments:
Computerworld, Infoworld, Macworld, Network World, PC World, Channel World, PC Magazine, PC Computing, Computer Shopper, Tip World and several other magazines.
Sites include JavaWorld.com, DummiesDaily.com, SunWorld.com, TipWorld.com, and dozens more. Subsidiaries include IDG Books Worldwide, IDG World Expo, ExecuTrain and IDG Marketing Services.
Business alliances:
Preferred provider of tech content to CNN Interactive's Sci-Tech Computing section (while CNN provides breaking news to IDG.net users). Has invested in Excite and Netscape.
Competitors:
Print publishing: Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, Mecklermedia Corporation.
Internet publishing: CNET, CMPnet, ZDNet, Mecklermedia Corporation.
Trade Shows: Miller Freeman, Mecklermedia Corporation, Ziff-Davis.
Market Research: Dataquest and IntelliQuest, Information Resource Group, Dun & Bradstreet, Ziff-Davis
Thestandard.net's and IDG.net's conflict disclosures:
Both sites operate under a comprehensive IDG online ethics policy found on their site, which deals mostly with the separation of editorial and advertising/management.
Both reveal IDG as a parent company, but do not identify its investments in Netscape and Excite, or its competitors or business partners.
Mea culpa:
"The dynamic technology of electronic pages and hypertext links creates high potential for reader confusion over what is editorial versus advertising, and IDG, therefore, has taken extra steps to prevent any such juxtaposition or confusion. IDG's editorial guidelines are built on the simple principle that only the editors should decide how content is presented, and which content is presented. The Web provides a whole host of subtle ways that such a line can be crossed, and we want to be explicit in stating that there is a line we simply can not and will not cross in regard to respecting the interests of our readers."        company press release
1997 revenue (IDG): $2.05 billion Number of employees: More than 9,000, with 2,000 editorial.

 


 
Site: CMPnet.com (cmpnet.com)
Description of site:
Home page for a family of 30-odd tech Web sites, divided into the categories of "builders, sellers and users of technology." Daily news, news broken down by category, and links to CMP's sites.
Editor: Jeffrey Pundyk Owner: CMP Media Inc. Publicly traded, with minority investors including J.W. Seligman & Co., Seligman CEO William Morris, and T. Rowe Price Associates.
What does CMP Media do?
Publishes magazines and Web sites emphasizing IT business-to-business; organizes trade shows and conferences. Has more than a dozen publications, plus a syndicated radio show and an online TV "network."
Company claims to be "the broadest, richest, deepest source of technology news, information and resources on the Web."
CMP Media's other publications and investments:
InformationWeek Online, InternetWeek, Network Computing Online, BYTE, Data Communications, LANTimes, tele.com, TechWeb, TechTools, TechCompanies, TechCalendar, TechEncycolopedia, Enterprise TechSearch, UnixWorld Online, EDTN, ChannelWEB, NetGuide, GamePower, FileMine, ISPs.com, Voices, Netstrology, Windows Magazine Online, TechShopper, TechInvestor and TechSearch.
Business alliances:
Provides content for Infoseek, AOL 4.0, AT&T Worldnet, Internet Explorer 4.0, Home.Microsoft.com, Hotmail Webcourier, PointCast, BackWeb, Bell South, Big Yellow Netscapte In-Box Direct, MindSpring, AirMedia and DLJ Direct.
See cmpnet.com/adinfo/bizalliance.html.
Also develops "custom content" for IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and others.
Competitors:
Print publishing: Ziff-Davis, IDG, Mecklermedia Corporation
Internet publishing: CNET, IDG, ZDNet, Mecklermedia Corporation
Conferences: Ziff-Davis, Mecklermedia Corporation, Miller Freeman
What do CMP Media's investors own?
Seligman, which has a series of investment funds, has major holdings including AOL, EMC, Seagate Technology, Maxim and Electronics for Imaging.
T. Rowe Price also manages funds, which hold AOL, Panamsat, Maxim, Ericcson, Sterling Commerce, Xylink and more.
CMPnet.com's conflict disclosures:
Discloses competition with Ziff-Davis but does not identify its investors, competitors or partners. CMPnet also publishes "custom sites" for clients, which look like editorial zones but are promoted in the company's "sponsorship opportunities" section.
Mea culpa:
"To preserve the editorial integrity of each publication's news reporting and analysis, the Company seeks to maintain strict separation between the editorial and sales staffs of each publication. The Company believes that its reputation for objective, fair and credible editorial content contributes significantly to its success."        -- SEC filing
1997 revenue, profit (CMP Media): $474 million, $17 million Employees: 1,720

 


 
Site: TheStreet.com (http://www.thestreet.com/)
Description of site:
Subscription-based online investment and financial news service, with an attitude.
Editor: Dave Kansas Owner: Privately held. Shareholders include James J. Cramer, Martin Peretz, Bear Stearns' Constellation Ventures Fund, New York City Investment Fund, Flatiron Partners, Chase Capital Partners, Softbank Technology Ventures.
What does TheStreet.com do?
Publishes itself, nothing more. Claims to be "the leading, most respected, and best-read online financial publication."
Business alliances:
Distribution alliances with ABCNews.com, AOL, American Express Financial Direct, Charles Schwab, DLJdirect, Horsemouth, The Industry Standard, The New York Observer, Reuters' Reality Online, United Features Syndicate, Yahoo.
Competitors:
Wall Street Journal Interactive, CBS Marketplace, Bloomberg, Reuters, Bridge News, AP/Dow Jones.
What do TheStreet.com's investors own?
Cramer is the manager of the hedge fund Cramer, Berkowitz & Co. Until 1997, owned more than a million shares in AP/Dow Jones; helped the company launch SmartMoney in 1996.
 
Peretz is the editor-in-chief and chairman of The New Republic, director of 11 mutual funds managed by The Dreyfus-Mellon Bank Group, director of biotech company Leukosite, an "early and active investor in Internet ventures," an owner of the Electronic Newsstand, and the original investor in Tripod.
 
Chase Capital Partners is one of the largest private equity firms in the world, with stakes in more than 350 companies, including media firms such as American Radio Systems, Cable & Wireless Communications plc, Enquirer/Star, Nextel Communications, TeleCorp, Triton Communications, Latin Communications Group and Magyar Telecom B.V.
See ww00.chase.com/global/ccp/portfolio/chasequery.asp?Industry=Media&Status=Current.
 
Flatiron is "the leading Internet-focused, early-stage venture capital firm in New York City," with stakes in Abuzz, eShare, Geocities, ITXC Corporation, IXL, Mainspring, Multex, Resonate, StarMedia, The Rights Exchange and Yoyodyne.
 
Softbank Technology Ventures is an investing wing of Softbank, the world's leading publisher of computer-related magazines and books. Softbank owns stakes in more than 70 firms, including Internet/media companies Yahoo, Red Herring, Ziff-Davis, E*Trade Group, GeoCities, I/Pro, PointCast, Third Age Media, Zip2, Electric Classifieds and more.
 
Bear Stearns controls several investments funds that own stakes in companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Travelers Group, Citicorp, Cisco Systems and more.
 
New York City Investment Fund manages $60 million of investments in "worthwhile projects" for the city, including Ericsson's CyberLab facility in the New York Technology Center.
TheStreet.com's conflict disclosures:
On stories longer than briefs, it identifies its investors and business partners, but does not always identify its competitors.
Mea culpa:
"In all stories on [our investors], we note that they have ownership stakes in TheStreet.com." Cramer is no longer accepting new partners in his fund, no employees are permitted to "hold position in individual stocks," and reporters must disclose when they write about mutual funds that they own shares of. Cramer and Peretz are not allowed to see content before it's published, nor are they allowed to discuss individual stocks with staffers.
Employees: More than 70, with 30 editorial

 


 
Site: Wired.com (http://www.wired.com/) Principal news site: Wired News
Description of news site:
Covers technology news and culture, links to Wired properties, and posts selected articles "from the trades."
Editor: Dan Brekke Owner: Wired Ventures, which is privately held. Stakeholders include CEO Louis Rossetto (18.5%), President Jane Metcalfe (18%), and Advance Magazine Publications Inc. (13%)
What does Wired Digital do?
Owns tech-focused search engine and publishes sites with tech news, product reviews, and how-to information for Web developers. Claims to have been "defining the Web since 1994."
Wired Digital's other publications and investments:
hotwired.com, suck.com, WebMonkey, HotBot, NewsBot and LiveWired.
Business alliances:
HotBot uses Inktomi software. Wired Ventures has exclusive rights to publish online contents of Wired magazine, which is now owned by Advance Publishing. Publishes The Rough Guide online.
Competitors:
Internet publishing: CNET, IDG.net, CMP.net, The Red Herring, ZDNet.
Search Engines: Snap! Online, AOL, Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, Infoseek, Netscape.
What do Wired Digital's investors' own?
Advance Publications owns the Conde Nast family of glossy magazines, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ and others.
Wired.com/news' conflict disclosures:
Identifies relationship to Inktomi, does not identify competitors or investors.
Mea culpa:
Wired Digital has very limited information posted about itself.
1998 1st quarter revenue (Wired Ventures): $3.4 million Number of employees: 115

 


 
Site: Red Herring (http://www.redherring.com/)
Description of site:
Covers Internet, computing and technology business news. Links to the print magazine.
Editor & CEO: Tony Perkins Owner: Herring Communications. Privately held. Ziff-Davis owns minority stake, as does individual investor Ronald Conway.
What does Herring Communications do?
Publishes Red Herring Magazine and Web site; holds conferences. Claims to be "premier provider of business and investment information for emerging technology entrepreneurs."
Business alliances:
Partnerships with Yahoo, Nasdaq, Netscape, Ziff-Davis and TheStreet.com.
Competitors:
Print publishing: FastCompany, IDG, Ziff-Davis, Wired.
Internet publishing: CNET, CMPnet, IDGnet, Wired.com, ZDNet.
Trade Shows: Miller Freeman, Mecklermedia Corporation, IDG.
Market Research: IDG, Ziff-Davis, Mecklermedia Corporation.
What do Herring Communications' investors own?
Ziff-Davis publishes more than 80 technology magazines and Web sites; organizes trade shows and conferences; conducts market research; and provides education. Titles include PC Magazine, PC Computing, Macworld, Computer Shopper, ComputerLife, Family PC, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Yahoo Internet Life, PC Week and dozens more.
See www.ziffdavis.com/medianetwork/zdmn_circfind.htm.
Ziff-Davis' majority owner, Softbank, owns stakes in more than 70 firms, including Internet/media companies Yahoo, E*Trade Group, GeoCities, I/Pro, PointCast, Third Age Media, Zip2, Electric Classifieds and TheStreet.com.
Ronald Conway is a vice president at CBT Systems, who also sits on the board of Adauction.com and Gradient Technologies Inc.
redherring.com's conflict disclosures:
Identifies Softbank, Ziff-Davis and Ronald Conway as investors; does not identify business partners nor competitors.
Mea culpa:
"In the spirit of truth and journalism, the founders of this publication felt The Red Herring an appropriate name for a monthly dedicated to providing a first look at the companies and trends shaping the business of technology."
1997 revenue (Herring Communications): Unavailable, though company says it was profitable in 1996.

 


 
Site: Internet.com (http://www.internet.com/)
Description of news site:
News about the Internet, culled from Mecklermedia Corporation's Web sites and magazines.
Editor: Gus Venditto Owner: Mecklermedia Corporation. Publicly traded. CEO Alan Meckler owns 29%.
What does Mecklermedia Corporation do?
Publishes 16 Web sites and a magazine; holds trade shows. Claims to be "the world's leading producer of trade shows and conferences offering information about all aspects of the Internet."
Mecklermedia Corporation's other publications and investments:
Internet World magazine, plus BrowserWatch, WeDeveloper.com, WebReference.com, The List, ServerWatch, WebCompare, Search Engine Watch, Internet World Daily, InternetNews.com, Electronic Commerce Guide, Java Boutique, Stroud's CWSApps List, Internet ProductWatch, Cool Central, Canada.Internet.Com
Business alliances:
Newsstand distribution through Kable News Company, puts on conferences with Reed Exhibition Companies, developed Internet industry search engine with Lycos, provides Internet stock info for Yahoo, and has licensing agreement with Reuters.
Competitors:
Print publishing: IDG, CMP Media Inc, Ziff-Davis.
Internet publishing: CNET, CMPnet, IDGnet, ZDNet.
Trade Shows: Miller Freeman, IDG, Ziff-Davis, Gartner Group, Digital Consulting.
Internet.com's conflict disclosures:
Does not identify competitors or business partners.
Mea culpa:
On the contrary, the company happily hypes its own trade shows in its editorial content.
1997 revenue, profit (Mecklermedia Corporation): $55.2 million, $1.9 million Employees: 182

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