I’ve always admired journalists. This goes back to the days when I fondly imagined a future life as a travelling sports journalist; continued through a stint as the account director on The Observer (winning creative awards); right through to today when I watch with admiration as investigative reporters everywhere refuse to be deflected or intimidated. It’s dreadful that so many of today’s young reporters and editors are told to focus on clicks rather than stories. This is so patently absurd -- everyone (except it seems newspaper managements) knows that clicks have zero to do with anything -- and yet they continue as a key “performance indicator.”
A couple of weeks ago The Cairncross Review was published. This is the result of a government process, led by Dame Frances Cairncross, “to investigate ways to secure the future of high-quality journalism in Britain.” The review ranges across the case for high standards in journalism, the threat posed to democracy should such standards disappear or diminish and the impact of the major platforms on the sustainability of original and quality reporting.
Amongst the review’s findings, the opening chapter on “Why should we care about the future of journalism?” concludes:
“Investigative journalism and democracy reporting are the areas of journalism most worthy and most under threat.”
Also, “The cost of investigative journalism is great and rarely seems to pay for itself.”
Cairncross goes on to discuss the role of Facebook and Google, concluding, “The opacity of the market for online advertising, and the market shares of Facebook and Google, are justification for regulators to study the market.”
You can’t say that those engaged in certain aspects of online trading haven’t been warned.
As it happens the Cairncross findings were rather overtaken by the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s report of its investigations into Facebook. This described FB as “digital gangsters” and repeated the point that Mark Zuckerberg has now refused three times to appear before this important Parliamentary Committee.
To quote the Committee’s Chairman, Damian Collins: “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized “dark adverts” from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day.”
The ad business seems out-of-step with both pieces of government work.
First, we really don’t it seems care much about the content in which our ads appear, although as traders finally start to give way to planners the hope must be that this is changing. If we thought more about the link between quality, engagement and involvement and less about meaningless numbers then we would surely reward proper journalism at the expense of clickbait listicles.
Sure, everyone talks about quality -- but rarely do they do anything about it. Whatever happened to agency thought leadership? Buried below a ton of made-up research rubble topped off with a cherry of the sort of deals agencies like, presumably.
Second, what on earth does Facebook have to do to start to lose the trust of advertisers?
For many (often smaller) advertisers, especially those engaged in driving an immediate reaction, FB no doubt delivers. But when it comes to larger, brand-building campaigns what FB delivers is a reverse-halo effect.
It makes zero sense to keep plugging away on a channel that based on the evidence would appear to be ill-suited for brand building.
As a society we need great journalists. Great journalists engage the audience. Great journalists need funding. Advertisers need an engaged, involved audience.
Surely, we can fill in the next sentence for ourselves?
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