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Selling ads not journalism has cost news industry £1bn over ten years, Newsworks boss says

The news industry has been “selling the wrong thing and for too long”, according to the head of the marketing body for national newspapers.

“We’ve been selling our advertising space and not our journalism,” Newsworks executive chairman Tracy De Groose told the Society of Editors annual conference today.

“It has lost us about one billion pounds of ad revenue over the last decade.”

De Groose said this was because “digital advertising is broken”.

“It is dominated by an open marketplace in which content has been sold as one amorphous mass,” she told journalists at Stationers’ Hall in London.

“There is little attention to the quality of the content. Or the attention of the audience. In fact, the word ‘content’ has been hijacked by the bullshitters, the propagandists, the fakers, and the like.

“This means quality journalism is being lumped together with this ‘content’ and sold to advertisers.

“Those advertisers now find themselves in this bonkers situation where they are no longer sure where their advertising is being shown. Nor are they sure if it is being seen by a human.”

But she said a “perfect window” of opportunity had appeared as demand for trusted sources of news and information soars against a landscape of “fake news”.

Newsworks’ own research claims 69 per cent of people say they trust their chosen newsbrand, while Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows trust in established newsbrands has grown from 48 per cent in 2017 to 60 per cent this year, with social media at 29 per cent for trust.

De Groose (pictured) said people were “looking for depth” and “demanding more analysis, news and information from the experts they can trust”.

She went on: “Because no one in our industry ever talks about total readership. The story that has dominated over the last ten years has been the one about declining newspaper circulations.

“Newspapers are important – 11m people read a national newspaper every day, but 19m people are reading our journalism online.

“That’s around two-thirds of our audience. It’s where our growth in readership is coming from. And that’s where it will continue to come from.

“Two million more people every day are reading news journalism online compared to a year ago.

“So, record numbers are reading the news. And readers are following us and our journalism as we transition online.

“In any other sector that kind of growth would be celebrated, packaged up and sold, and told repeatedly, to advertisers who play a huge part in funding our industry.”

De Groose said that “on all the metrics that matter to advertisers – growth, trust and demand” the industry is “in great shape”, but added: “For all this growth the money still isn’t coming our way.”

She said the “stranglehold the tech platforms have on the digital advertising market is tight”.

Online ad revenue is forcecast to rise by 5 per cent this year, said De Groose, which she described as “mildly encouraging” albeit “far from enough”.

The Duopoly – Google and Facebook – take the lion’s share of UK digital advertising money, a market worth more than £11bn in 2017.

But the Newsworks executive chairman said “digital is shifting on its axis”.

“The next phase of digital is looking significantly brighter for publishers”, she said. “Every piece of evidence shows that concentrating digital spend into quality journalistic environments delivers. And more and more advertisers are ready to listen.”

She said the news industry “has to take advantage of this shift” and cannot “let the opportunity pass us by”.

She added: “We are the greatest storytellers. But we haven’t always been great at telling our own story.”

De Groose said the industry must “learn to tell one unified story more powerfully, more consistently and more frequently”.

“I am committing to be a figurehead for this,” she said, adding that she planned to talk about the digital ad market at the United Nations next week.

“I am going to make more noise in more places to help turn the tide in our direction,” she said.

“So, if I could ask one thing from you all it would be to give our industry the oxygen of publicity it deserves, to get our side of the story out there.”

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