Newspapers remain tried and trusted amid the social media revolution
‘Anewspaper should have no friends,” wrote Joseph Pulitzer, articulating the spirit of editorial independence that won him the admiration of his readers and an indictment from the US government.
While any one newspaper should indeed have no friends, the press as a whole needs as many as it can get.
The decline in newspaper sales is matched by falling commercial revenues as advertisers look to digital channels for greater reach, precise targeting and the ability to trigger an immediate purchase.
Most publishers’ digital dreams have yet to be realised as Google and Facebook gobble up the large majority of incremental digital ad spend. Meanwhile, efforts to leverage newspapers’ collective strength through collaborative approaches to advertising sales have struggled to get off the ground.
And yet opportunities remain. Indeed, the New York Times added more than a quarter of a million new subscribers in the last three months of 2016, while the Wall Street Journal has reported that it had swelled its paid subscriber base to more than 2.1m.
Advertisers and their agencies have raised concerns about vulnerabilities in the digital media supply chain. Last year, for instance, Facebook was forced to admit that it had repeatedly overstated important metrics for advertisers – showing what happens when digital media giants are left to mark their own homework.
Viewability, the extent to which digital ads can actually be seen by consumers, has been the subject of much debate. Keith Weed, of Unilever, has long argued that “100pc viewability of ads… is the only acceptable metric”. Fraud (for example when advertisers end up paying for “views” by bots rather than humans) is another issue on clients’ radar.
There is also a risk that advertising appears next to contextually irrelevant, inappropriate or offensive material. Companies like ours have fought hard to ensure safe environments for digital advertising, while recognising that ultimate responsibility for properly identifying and policing content lies with the digital media owners themselves.
News brands (the term used to describe both the print and digital manifestations of newspapers) are seeking to use all of this to their advantage, positioning themselves as trustworthy sources amidst a sea of digital misinformation, and as responsible gatekeepers for advertisers.
Our media investment business, GroupM, which buys advertising space on behalf of clients, is platformagnostic, offering neutral advice to help companies meet their goals. Part of that role is to make sure clients fully understand the particular benefits of newspaper advertising.
Independent research commissioned by Newsworks, the marketing body for UK national newspapers, revealed that newspapers can increase the overall effectiveness of an ad campaign by 300 per cent. Studies worldwide show that people are more engaged when reading a newspaper than they are when using social media, an important consideration for advertisers seeking consumers’ attention – and access to their wallets.
There are few people on earth who know more about that than Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, whose acquisition of the Washington Post in 2013 was an act of faith in the future of journalism and newspaper publishing.
By pairing the digital innovation and iron discipline that built Amazon into an e-commerce juggernaut with an old-fashioned commitment to newsgathering, he appears to have turned the Post around.
For all their failings, newspapers are an essential component of public life, with a value that goes far beyond the commercial. Few chief executives – even those who have been on the wrong end of a headline from time to time – would argue with that.