Consummate do-gooder NYT columnist Nick Kristof is waging a campaign against Backpage.com, the online hooker-ad compendium, and its corporate parents, Village Voice Media and (until Kristof gave them bad PR) Goldman Sachs. Is there a note of hypocrisy to be found in all this? Perhaps, a little!
Kristof's column today is back on the topic of Backpage, and how pimps use it to sell girls who are underage, sex-trafficked, or both. "When I wrote recently about this, these firms erupted in excuses and self-pity, and in some cases raced to liquidate their stakes," he writes. "I was struck by the self-absorption and narcissism of Wall Street bankers viewing themselves as victims."
Kristof works for the New York Times. The New York Times Company owns the broad info website About.com. Last week on BigJournalism.com, Joel Pollak raised a legitimate point: About.com hosts ads for escort services and other types of "adult entertainment"—which could be home to underage or sex-trafficked girls just as easily as Backpage.com could.
Now, this is a full order of magnitude more removed from the prostitution business than Backpage is; Backpage is a straight up hooker ad board, while About is an online information encyclopedia, with a little bit of everything. Still—applying Kristof's own stringent standards, it is in fact true that the New York Times Co. could be profiting from the very thing that Kristof has been condemning. Not the scandal of the century. But standards are standards.
We received this statement on the topic from Kristin Mason, PR director for the About group:
The sponsored and text ads that appear on the pages of About.com come through a third-party advertising service. While we do block third-party ads that use profane and vulgar words, the ads on the search results pages are served based on the user's search terms, so if a user searches the site for a specific keyword the third-party system will do its best to serve ads that fit the searcher's needs.
About.com receives an immaterial percentage of the site's overall ad revenue from cost-per-click ads for these types of search terms.
Something to mention in your next column, Nick.