Truth to Power, Ad Tech needs to stand up for journalism


Mark Bembridge, CEO, Smartology

Fake news and the press’ future are now at the top of the political agenda. To be slightly flippant, journalism must be truly in crisis when politicians acknowledge they need to support quality reporting to maintain democracy. Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has said he would not rule out a tech tax for Google and Facebook to fund public interest journalism.

This week, the newspaper trade body, NMA, said it would like to see the duopoly pay a licence fee where publishers get paid when their content is used. Last month, even seasoned journalists demonstrated that anyone can be fooled by fake news, when they accepted at face value a spoof twitter campaign ironically titled “Don’t believe every tweet”, featuring bogus quotes from Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey.

We clearly need good journalism more than ever

This is particularly resonant in the adtech industry, as without media brands we wouldn’t exist. However much advertisers talk about creativity, people don’t subscribe to The Economist for its advertising. We all know that while media consumption is in flux, the press is, and always has been, part of a much larger cultural ecosystem. It’s not something that exists in isolation.

For those of us in media and advertising, we implicitly know that quality media outlets can charge a premium for their advertising, but now there’s explicit evidence context matters. Research by World Media Group, the body representing the world’s top media brands, shows advertising in quality titles is better than Moat benchmarks. (Full disclosure I sit on its board as an associate member).
Quality media placements also solve advertiser headaches around ongoing brand safety challenges, although savvy CMOs have always been wary about where their brand appears.

As a sector, our grubby supply chain has chipped away at the revenue received by news brands. It’s too easy to say it’s their fault for not reacting fast enough. That sounds like victim blaming. We’ve not helped them by acting like the school bully and eating their lunch, leaving only crumbs behind. The 55% of advertiser budget that went on the adtech supply chain can’t leave advertisers happy and doesn’t seem fair on any level. The bottom line is this will have cost journalist jobs.

Right now, journalism is under threat. In the UK there are 6,000 less journalists than there were a decade ago and newspaper revenue has more than halved.

The UK Government is so concerned about the status quo, in March it launched the Caincross Review, to explore what protection is needed to ensure the future viability of the press. We need to stand up for a free press. Primarily, because it’s the right thing to do. And when we decry the latest abuse of power, we should be grateful we have at least found out about it.

Quality journalism is not cheap, it’s not free and it’s a public service not funded by the state. As its crucial for democracy we must fight for it.

If we care about fairness, we need professional journalists.


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