Newsday cuts Verizon ads after cablevision deal

By Richard Perez-Pena

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2009 9:59 p.m. MDT

At a time when most newspapers are hungry for any ads they can sell, Newsday has turned away a steady, lucrative customer that is also a direct competitor of the paper's parent company, Cablevision.

Verizon Communications bought full-page ads in Newsday several times a month for its Fios Internet and television service until a few months ago, when the paper said it would no longer take them, according to a Verizon executive and ad buyers who work with the company.

"They made it clear we didn't need to keep calling," said Eric Rabe, a senior vice president of Verizon. He and others involved said Newsday had offered no explanation and had not objected to the content of the ads.

But Fios is a leading competitor on Long Island to Cablevision, the dominant provider of pay television and high-speed Internet in that market. Since last year, Cablevision has also owned Newsday, the region's dominant newspaper. It also owns News 12, a Long Island local news station, giving it a hold on information delivery that is unmatched by a single company in any other large market in the country.

This month, Newsday rejected an ad from the Tennis Channel that had criticized Cablevision for not carrying the channel and had invited consumers to find it on competing pay television services like Fios, DirecTV or the Dish Network.

In that instance, Newsday said it had turned down the ad because it was unfair. In the case of the Verizon ad, it declined to comment.

"We do not comment on specific ads except to say that Newsday, like every other media company, including The New York Times, accepts or rejects advertising at its own discretion," said Deidra Parrish Williams, a Newsday spokeswoman.

Rabe said Verizon was not perturbed by Newsday's decision, because Fios ads still reach Long Islanders through television and other media, and Fios enrollment in the market is rising, though he would not give any figures. Verizon declined to say how much it had been paying Newsday for the Fios ads, but ad buying firms estimated that it was hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

"Customers are still coming to us, and the net of this is Cablevision doesn't get the benefit of our revenue," Rabe said.

But the episode raises troubling ethical and practical questions for Newsday, said Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism foundation in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"Newspapers accept ads at their own discretion, but they generally set the bar pretty high for rejecting advertising, because they don't want to be seen as denying access to free speech," she said. She added that appearing to deny an ad for competitive business reasons, rejecting an ad that is not obviously offensive or failing to explain the rejection could undermine a paper's credibility.

In January, the top three editors at Newsday did not report for work for a few days amid reports that they had been fired or had resigned in a dispute with Cablevision over the paper's coverage of the New York Knicks basketball team, which is also owned by the company. The editors returned to duty, and neither they nor the company offered a full explanation of what had happened.

Last year, when many newspapers that had been put up for sale were failing to attract buyers, Cablevision won a bidding war for Newsday. It paid the Tribune Co. $650 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a single newspaper.

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