News is Not Porn or File Sharing

Years back, native digital media operations got a hard time from traditional or mainstream media for not doing enough hard or real news. Over the intervening period, there has been significant investment by all the digital native sites, including our own (Dailymail.com), in reporting of real, hard news.

But there’s a problem . . .

The greatest challenge to news reporting over this period has not been a decline in investigative journalism budgets or overseas bureaus, or programmatic CPMs, or the decline of print, but rather that many advertisers and agencies have been unwilling to run adjacent to real, important, hard news.

That is, while an advertiser for a car or insurance product will happily run in a 30 second television commercial before or after NBC Nightly News reports a war incident, or adjacent to such a story in a newspaper, they will object to running on a web page with this coverage.

Advertisers and agencies routinely say, “we don’t run next to news” or if their ad is running next to a natural disaster or just about any vital but unpleasant news, they call to ask to have their ads removed. When they do an advertising buy, it often comes with the stipulation, “no news!” Agencies routinely identify news as “not brand safe.”

How crazy is that? Media agencies telling their brands not to support and sponsor the conveyance of news?

If you go to our home page, cnn.com, huffingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, etc when there is an incident of important news the public needs to know, there is often no ads.

Who is killing the news? Or at least trying to kill the news: advertisers! Luckily, this is getting fixed.

We are on the cusp of an inflection point in how advertisers think about hard news and breaking news, and I wish to accelerate that inflection. Breaking and hard news is in my opinion the most societally important area of media growth, and also the most increasingly commercially valuable.

I know CMOs and CEOs, and when I tell them this “brand safe” situation, they are shocked and quickly stop it. We are fixing this one brand at a time and the past year has been fantastic. The number of amazing Fortune 500 brands that have run with us against breaking hard news this year is amazing. The number of agencies that no longer pressure their clients to pull ads from news adjacency is laudable. This would have be unhinkable progress just a year or two ago.

Candidly, our U.S. business will have a breakthrough revenue year, making us invest MORE in U.S. news, because of this door to door lobbying effort.

I want this to go even faster. I have no patience for the same people bemoaning the decline in news and journalism often being the ones who don’t want to advertise against it.

News is not porn or file-sharing.

I want brands to be proud of sponsoring the news. And not feel a sense of fear or shame when their ads run next to a negative world event. What’s the alternative? Media reporting only positive news and entertainment because real news is un-monetizeable?

Again TV doesn’t have this issue. And come on, an ad next to a story is not that different from a commercial before or after a story, despite media planners making this dubious argument to me.

From my experience with the Daily Mail, this is much more a U.S. issue than a European or international one. There are limits, for example an auto maker reasonably would not want to run adjacent to significant highway accident, but as our publisher Martin Clarke said to me, “In the UK, advertisers expect to be next to news.”

To state the obvious because some advertisers and agencies seem to require it: when you run against tragic or unpleasant news, no reader thinks you are endorsing these events. The reader understands that in the absence of the advertiser paying for their news, there would be no news. There would just be entertainment.


To summarize:

  • Breaking news and news of world happenings, both positive and negative, is vital for the public.
  • The greatest threat to the news, is not digital competition, but rather advertisers and agencies who list “news” as a category they will not run against on the same list as porn and file-sharing. Advertisers should say, “we want to advertise against MORE news.”
  • If you are an advertiser or agency, commit to supporting breaking news. That is, if you like a site and an audience, commit to not pulling your ads when the site’s home page has hard news.
  • If late night talk shows or media pundits do a screen grab of your soap ad running next to a story of an international incident, rather than cowering, call these people idiots, and boldly explain that you support the public’s need for news and wish to pay for the delivery of this information.

Yes this is about revenue. But it is also about the fact that after hearing professors explain why media and newspapers are under threat, I wanted to tell it like it is. It’s about the advertisers.

And this situation is largely getting fixed- I am hustling almost half of every waking day telling this story all over midtown. And you can see the brands on our site and homepage, and those of CNN, Fox News, HuffPo, etc. when they have hard news, that get it. These are the brands that deserves readers’ appreciation and respect.

But I figured why not write this and get it fixed faster. And the benefit of writing this post is that the next time I get an RFP from an agency or brand that says “no news,” I can just reply with a link to this post.