All the recent talk about net neutrality and how the telcos are planning to leverage their pipes against the threats of Google et al reminded me of a story I heard recently about AT&T/SBC and our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.
According to sources that are very well informed inside the paper, SBC (now AT&T after the merger) is quite upset with the way a Chronicle columnist has been covering the company. Now SBC is pretty much the top Old School corporation around here (the SF Giants ballpark is named after it, for example), and it spreads its advertising budget around like oxygen in an intensive care ward. I’m told that annually, SBC spends around $5 million with the Chronicle.
But recently, SBC has turned off the spigot. Seems Chronicle columnist David Lazarus pissed them off one time too many, and for whatever reason the paper would not muzzle the recalcitrant journalist. In what appears to be retribution, SBC has pulled its ads.
Sure, a company has the right to spend its ad dollars wherever it wants to. But SBC not supporting the home town paper, because it doesn’t like the fact that that paper’s columnist writes negative (but from what I can tell, pretty accurate) pieces? That just seems, well, misguided. After all, negative press is still press, and it’s an opportunity to respond, to learn, to grow, to do better. Even if you disagree with the press, at least take the time to engage in a conversation.
So I called AT&T/SBC to get a response and ask if what my sources charge is true. But I only got this: “Our marketing strategy and media buying plans are proprietary.”
Why am I writing this? Because this is your new competitor, Google. Get to know them. As you offer free WiFi to all of San Francisco (and, one might argue, the rest of the country/world), and undermine AT&T/SBC’s broadband business (and wheel Vint Cerf out to argue the net neutrality meme), hard ball players like SBC are going to go after you, and rest assured, their motto ain’t “don’t be evil.”
Caveat: I have friends inside the SF Chronicle, and because SBC isn’t çommenting, this post represents just one side of the story. I hope SBC will change its mind and engage …. if it does, I’ll update this post.