UK news publishers face losing £50m in revenues over the next three months if brands continue to use “blocklist” technology to stop adverts appearing next to stories about the coronavirus outbreak.
Newspapers and digital news companies have joined forces to call on advertisers to stop using lists of keywords to automatically block their online ads from popping up beside virus-related stories.
While all top news outlets – including The Independent – have seen a surge in demand from readers for accurate information on the unprecedented pandemic, advertisers continue to use a pre-coronavirus model.
Tracy De Groose, the executive chair of Newsworks, told The Independent: “Our research tells us that readers really don’t have a problem with adverts appearing next to news stories about the coronavirus.”
“The public want us to report on this story – there is a civic duty to keep the public informed,” said Ms De Groose, who co-ordinated an open letter from publishers and industry bodies to advertisers.
The Newsworks executive argued current blocklisting tools were “too blunt” and fail to distinguish between high-quality journalism and other content on the internet, or even between different types of news stories.
The blanket approach to blocking ads on stories featuring “coronavirus”, “Covid-19” or related terms means even positive or uplifting stories such as those on exercise guru Joe Wicks’ fundraising efforts or volunteers’ support for frontline NHS staff can be included.
“Much of the technology doesn’t understand the nuance and context of the news stories on the coronavirus,” said Ms De Groose. “The whole system really needs to be overhauled, because it feels like it’s broken.”
The open letter to advertisers – with signatories from The Independent and our sister title the Evening Standard – said: “If the pandemic lasts for another three months the total loss across our news brands is expected to be £50 million, threatening our ability to fund the quality journalism that is vital to ensure that the UK public is accurately informed during the crisis.”
Industry trade bodies the News Media Association and the Society of Editors have lent their support to the appeal, along with Newsworks. It is also backed by the Association for Online Publishers, Internet Advertising Bureau and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
Lynne Anderson, deputy chief executive of the News Media Association, said: “The critical role played by news media in getting trusted and accurate information out to the public has been widely acknowledged during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Advertisers should be supporting this vital public service provided by the media.”
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