For news organizations, clicks and online traffic have never been higher. Yet, ad revenue that typically accompanies this traffic has never been lower.
These falling revenues are not just numbers on a spreadsheet; they have real impacts on real people. Over 36,000 news media employees have been furloughed, laid off or received pay cuts.
News organizations across the country are offering potentially life-saving information to readers. But as news organizations struggle to stay afloat, many digital advertisers have used keyword blocking to prevent ads from running next to coronavirus-related content. Advertisers are blocking terms like “coronavirus” and “pandemic,” de-monetizing large chunks of news content. This restriction hinders the production of quality content as news publishers are forced to furlough or lay off staff to make up for the loss.
Despite this fact, news organizations are still working around the clock to publish high quality, critical content.
The keyword blocking trend poses a serious threat to the news industry. Not only does it disincentivize the publishing of information about the coronavirus that the public desperately needs, it punishes journalists who do. If these practices continue, it could threaten journalists’ continued ability to provide high quality reporting about the pandemic. In these trying times, we should be doing everything we can to support their efforts to provide accurate information to communities across the country.
News publishers offer unique value by providing the public with essential information they need to stay safe, while also providing advertisers with access to a more engaged, higher-income and more-educated audience than other forms of media. Harmful keyword blocking poses serious consequences for both news publishers and the American public.
While advertisers’ desire to prevent ads from running next to false information or conspiracy theories about COVID-19 is understandable, there are other solutions that don’t involve blocking accurate and beneficial pandemic-related content and threatening the sustainability of journalism.
One solution is to implement a “whitelist” approach. Instead of blocking particular words in articles, this approach would pre-approve trusted and reliable sources, such as news organizations, as ad-friendly. News organizations could then monetize all of their content and not be punished for providing pivotal information to their communities. This approach would also address concerns by advertisers may have about their content running next to fake news or conspiracy theories.
This solution would provide pivotal support to news organizations, help ensure brand safety and support the delivery of accurate information to the American public.
Newsgathering and publishing must be protected – we need them now more than ever. It is now up to advertisers to consider the greater good. Through stopping harmful keyword blocking, they can help news publishers to continue to provide crucial information that will keep the American public safe and informed.
Natalie Seales is a First Amendment Law and Policy Fellow at the News Media Alliance.