A view from Gideon Spanier

Advertisers need to remember the value of news

Advertisers would do well to remember the value of news at this tumultuous time for politics.

Advertising and journalism are good for each other. Look at the six shortlisted contenders for Sales Team of the Year at the Media Week Awards, taking place tonight (Thursday), and it’s striking that four of them – Channel 4, ITV, Sky and Trinity Mirror – use ad revenues to fund some or all of their news coverage.

And original journalism is good for these sales teams’ own brands. Think how important the provision of news is to the reputation of each of those media owners.

Advertisers would do well to remember the value of news at this tumultuous time for politics.

Marketers and agencies have spent the past couple of years pulling money from traditional news organisations, particularly newspapers, in pursuit of cheaper ways of reaching generic audiences through the supposed nirvana of digital aggregation. 

But it is not the tech platforms that are holding politicians to account in the face of demagoguery and ignorance. Instead, it is trusted news organisations, especially traditional news publishers, that are checking the facts and challenging lies.

The Washington Post and The New York Times have done the world a great service by exposing Donald Trump as a charlatan. In Britain, those of us who wanted to remain in the European Union can only lament that journalists did not subject the myths and misinformation peddled by Brexiters to the same level of scrutiny as the US media are doing to Trump.

It is far-fetched to suggest that journalists would have done a better job of exposing Vote Leave’s "£350m a week for the NHS" lie if advertisers had not slashed their spending with publishers, yet it is true that newsrooms would have been better resourced. Now we are all paying the price as the UK ad market has been getting progressively worse since the vote.

For editors and publishers, this is a sobering time as they have belatedly woken up to the fact that advertising cannot pay for everything, particularly high-quality content. John Witherow, editor of The Times, is right when he says from the comfort of his paper’s paywall: "Free is under huge pressure."

Market forces are relentless and it is hard to believe marketers and agencies will do a U-turn about the value of news.

But there are consequences. As someone who cares about advertising, I fear that the ad industry will be valued less by journalists, who shape public opinion.

And what are the implications for democracy if news becomes a niche increasingly available only to those who can afford to pay for it?

gideon.spanier@haymarket.com 
@gideonspanier

Topics