Saving Journalism


-By Gary Neal, COO of Smartology


There are no two ways about it. Journalism is under threat. A report commissioned by the UK government on sustainable high-quality journalism proves precisely that. There are a quarter fewer full-time journalists than a decade ago, and large swathes of the UK have no access to proper local news coverage. Seeing the spreading of fake news in the recent case of France’s Yellow Jackets protest movement or a misinformation network found in the UK, it’s clear we need good journalism more than ever to cut through the fog.

The problem isn’t confined to the UK, it’s a worldwide issue, and digital titles are far from immune. 2019’s already seeing hundreds of journalists laid off from The Pool, Buzzfeed and Vox.
According to UNESCO, “Professional news media acts as a guardian of public interest. It is an important component of the checks and balances that form part of a democracy. By disseminating trusted information to citizens, the news media enables citizen participation in development and strengthens accountability feedback mechanisms. Citizens cannot exercise and enjoy their citizenship in the absence of crucial information and knowledge, which well-trained journalists are better placed to provide.”

This particularly resonates for us in the adtech sector as advertising and the media industry are symbiotically involved. We can talk about creativity as much as we want but the fact remains – people don’t subscribe to the FT or the Telegraph for its advertising. Although the consumption of news is in flux, the press was and will always be an indispensable part of the larger cultural ecosystem.
For those of us in media and advertising, we have always implicitly known that media outlets with quality journalism can charge a premium for their advertising, but now there is explicit evidence that quality journalism boosts ad campaigns. Recent research by World Media Group, the body representing the world’s top media brands, shows that campaigns perform better (than the Moat benchmark) when they advertise with premium publishers.

In the digital era, it’s good to see the power wielded by Facebook and Google facing scrutiny. The Chancellor Philip Hammond has written to the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) asking them to carry out a market study of the digital advertising market as soon as is possible. For far too long, the big techs have monopolised the digital landscape and exercised too much power – an algorithm is tweaked, traffic to media titles is cut, ad revenue dries up and more journalists lose their jobs.
Yes, publishers are mostly ad revenue-driven but in the next couple of years this will shift, and subscription revenues may overtake advertising revenues. For our industry to be effective then, as advertisers, we need to stand up for quality journalism. Primarily, because it’s ethically the right thing to do, as it’s a key part of ensuring we still live in a democracy. And while we decry the latest abuses of power, we should be grateful we have at least uncovered them and credit the journalists who broke the story.

We need professional journalists to maintain balance in the era of fake news. To conclude, quality journalism is not cheap, it’s not free and it’s a public service not funded by the state. We must fight for it as it’s crucial to keeping democracy alive.



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