America’s Advertisers: I’m talking about democracy, and your role in it. News flash: You have one. Let me explain.
We are still very much in the midst of a fascinating, often exciting but sometimes scary digital transformation in which advertising dollars are moving to Google and Facebook in a hurry. But as those dollars are moving toward Google and Facebook, they are often moving away from quality news and information providers, starving them of the direct digital revenue they need to pay for fact-based news gathering. Real news costs real money; fake news comes cheap.
The shifting dynamic is especially hard for old-line newspapers, whose lucrative classified ads were rendered obsolete by the likes of Craigslist, and high-margin print advertising fled to the Web. They had hoped to make up the difference through online advertisements. Then Google and Facebook fired up their cash vacuums.
Their draw for marketers is all too powerful, and understandable. Advertisers were once happy to pay to reach big, broad audiences with the hope of getting their messages in front of the right customers—buying the whole cow just to get the milk, it was called— and they would turn to local newspapers for what once passed for geographical precision. Now they can use Facebook and Google to reach a smaller, more targeted audience, right down to the correct ZIP code.
The new environment is forcing newspapers to scramble to come up with a solution that can keep the lights on, and keep the staff large enough to continue to do real, probing journalism, before it’s too late and it’s all over.
Facebook is working to do its part to help newspapers. Newspapers are trying to modernize. Now it is time for advertisers to do their part to support the people who make the quality content they want to be associated with, and to reconsider their headlong rush away from them.
That isn’t a plea for charity. It’s a plea for common sense. If current trends continue, there will be far less quality content to fill the big platforms advertisers are so in love with. They should think about what will be left.